As many of you know, the mountain town of Gatlinburg, Tennessee caught fire on the night of November 28, 2016. Due to high winds that moved in early that day, embers from an already burning 500 acre wildfire near the Chimney Tops in the Great Smoky Mountains were lifted and set several small fires in addition to downed power lines that sparked fires. This area has been in a severe drought for months. It has been reported that in less than 30 minutes, the flames blazed toward Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. A forced evacuation of nearly 14,000 residents and tourists was put in place. By early Tuesday morning, some much needed rain had moved into the area and suppressed the flames. As of Monday, December 5, 2016, the fires are mostly contained with some hot spots still out there. It is estimated there have been 14 deaths, approximately 1700 structures damaged or destroyed and over a hundred who sustained injuries. There are still several residents who are unaccounted for in the aftermath. The latest reports indicate the much needed rain received in the last week helped tremendously. The Chimney Tops fire is about 42% contained and has burned approximately 17,000 acres; and the Cobbly Nob fire is about 53% contained and has burned approximately 800 acres.
Sevier County, where these beloved towns are located, encourages everyone to come back and visit. This area thrives on tourism. My family had the opportunity to visit Pigeon Forge this past weekend and loved it. Gatlinburg is still closed for the most part due to power lines, trees, debris and checking the soundness of the buildings to ensure that residents and visitors are safe. Officials report that the city of Gatlinburg will be completely open as of Friday, December 9th.
Lives have been lost, homes have been lost, businesses have been lost, jobs have been lost. What has not been lost is hope. Although this fire was devastating, the people in this area are resilient and will survive and thrive again. Please remember them in your thoughts and prayers and please come visit this beautiful area. www.tennessee.gov has a Sevier County Resource Page where information for the residents of Sevier County can be found and information for those who want to help.
Heather Ellis Banks is an Associate Attorney at the Bond & Botes Law Offices in Knoxville, Tennessee. She holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of Tennessee Knoxville, and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Memphis, Cecil.C. Humphreys School of Law. She has been helping consumers to navigate through the bankruptcy process since 2005. Read her full bio here.