As Storms Hit The South – Lessons From East Tennessee And The Gatlinburg Fire

Two teenagers were arrested for starting the terrible fires in Gatlinburg, TN that killed 14 people and could face 60 years in prison.  The deadly fires were fueled by high winds and a drought in Tennessee that made the arson particularly deadly.

“The teens are suspected of starting the deadly fire that forced more than 14,000 people to evacuate the east Tennessee tourist areas of Gatlinburg, Sevier County and Pigeon Forge in late November. More than 2,400 homes, businesses and other structures were damaged or destroyed in the fire, with costs expected to top $500 million. The fire began in Great Smoky Mountain National Park, reportedly when the two boys, ages 17 and 15, dropped lit matches  along Chimney Tops Trail.  The incident management team reports the fire burnt 15,653 acres.

The park and the surrounding areas was under a no-burn order at the time due to a severe drought. From the start, investigators said they believed the fire was caused by human activity.” – The above was an exerpt from an article by Leada Gore that was recently published regionally here in the south.

Wildfires are serious business here in the south.  We had just moved to east Tennessee from the Adirondack Mountains in Northern New York before these wildfires hit.  Gatlinburg is right down the road from us and we could see the smoke and smell it for weeks.

The night the fires spread so quickly we had severe wind storms.  At our farm winds were literally bending trees sideways and the house shook.  Nuts from the trees were being blown into our windows so hard I thought the windows would crack.

I have never felt the intensity of wind the way I did that night.  The fires raged and whipped through the tree tops traversing a very large distance.

One firefighter on the scene told local news, ““Everywhere you looked, there were fires everywhere. It was like driving into hell,” said Rain Moore, 32, a lieutenant with the Sneedville Fire Department, about an hour and a half away.”

There are many lessons for farmers and large land owners who experienced this terrible tragedy.  And, for us, the stories continue as we meet so many who lost everything in the blaze.

So, what can farmers and land owners do to prepare for such events.

  1. First, make sure if you have livestock that there is a community call list prepared a long time in advance of ANY FIRE whereby a call queue can be accomplished to have people with horse trailers come in and help truck out animals.  Many animals were abandoned, lost, killed and in need of re-homing short or long term during this tragedy.
  2. Second, on your own property – it is truly imperative to keep your brush at bay, as far away from your structures as possble. Maintaining a decent distance between homes and forest does make a difference.
  3. Third, having a holding pond with water and pumps can help a great deal as fire trucks often can not get to all the rural residences.
  4. Fourth, make sure you have smaller cages and crates to be able to truck out smaller pets and livestock.
  5. Fifth, keep your gutters of your house clean.  Believe it or not, the fires were throwing embers on people’s rooftops.  The embers were rolling into people’s gutters.  Then the debris in the gutters would catch on fire and then torch the house down.   Firefighters told home owners to run hoses on their roof tops and keep the gutters wet so that the embers would not set the gutters on fire AND IT WORKED!
  6. Sixth, always have an emergency plan with your family.  Unfortunately, there were very tragic stories here locally of family members who got separated and fathers going to shelters looking for wife and kids for days only to find out later they had died in the fire.  THIS IS A TRAGEDY no human should have to endure.  HAVE A FAMILY escape plan.
  7. Seventh, ALWAYS MONITOR wildfires and weather when they are in your area.  Honestly, none of us were paying much attention around here.  The reason is the fires had been burning for about a week off in the distance.  So, we were all a bit used to it.  It was the terrible combination of high winds and the drought that started Sunday night but truly destroyed everything Monday and Tuesday.  We will NEVER EVER look mildly at weather, wind, fire or drought again.
  8. Eighth, and this should be first!! TRAIN YOUR KIDS HOW TO BEHAVE IN THE WOODS! Dolly Parton had just done a wildfire / wilderness awareness commercial literally days before this wildfire nearly burned down Dollywood.  It was surreal.  Please everyone who enjoys the outdoors, train your children and teach them often about fire, wilderness and correct behavior in the woods.

As severe storms rage through the south this week I felt it was important to share some of the key takeaways we have learned here as we relocate to the south ourselves and have witnessed the true devastation that converging elements can have on a community and on farms and rural areas specifically.

God Bless! L. Davis


2 thoughts on “As Storms Hit The South – Lessons From East Tennessee And The Gatlinburg Fire

  1. My family and I were there on a weekend trip during the fires. The smoke in the air was almost choking you with every breath. Driving into Gatlinburg that morning, prior to the fire’s peak, as you left Pigeon Forge you could barely see out of the vehicle window. Then the smoke went from white and gray to orange and brown, we knew at that moment that we had to turn around. It progressed and worsened throughout the day, smoke clouded the skies from Gatlinburg to the Interstate near Sevierville. All my family and I could do was pray, for we knew that we would be able to leave and go home to the safety of our home 3 hours away, but some of those people’s lives would be forever changed. I pray that all of those that were affected by the fire were granted peace and recovery, compassion and safety, and above all things blessed with a greater appreciation for life and redemption. Shalom Aleichem!

    Liked by 1 person

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