The Smoky Mountains have now tragically endured its own name. This area of Tennessee is traditionally considered a beloved and nostalgic vacation area for families eager to spend a week in a cabin, ready to experience family-friendly attractions. However, the recent fires demand massive restoration that could put a halt on the usually reliable tourism.
According to the Knoxville News Sentinel, on Nov. 28, 90mph winds scattered embers from a 500-acre fire near the Chimney Tops in the Great Smoky Mountains. Within twenty-five minutes, the fires rapidly advanced towards Gatlinburg, which enacted mandatory evacuations, including surrounding areas like Pigeon Forge. Officials claim 134 people were injured due to hazardous conditions, and 14 people have died. Over 1,684 buildings were damaged or demolished.
A Sunday afternoon rain shower provided a much-needed reprieve to quench the fires. Meteorologist Mike Proud states, “The rain is doing wonders for knocking down the fire behavior.” However, he still expects logs and trees to retain heat.
Thankfully, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation stated the air quality in Knoxville, Chattanooga, and the Smoky Mountains is now reduced to “green,” which indicates “little or no risk.” As of Monday, Dec. 5, city officials permitted residents to return to their homes between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. through one checkpoint. However, certain areas are still blocked as workers attempt to clear roads for passage.
Although residents are returning to their hometown, no sense of normalcy will be achieved for quite a while considering the catastrophic nature of the fire. Additionally, people are still missing, but the Tennessee Bureau Investigation has helped procure 150 leads. As of Sunday, Dec. 4, thirty-eight percent of the Chimney Tops was contained, and 713 personnel were fighting the fire. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park spokesman, Warren Bielenberg, stated, “We can make a lot of headway on hot spots in the area and get those knocked down, and then hopefully start sending folks home from here pretty soon.” Although officials are hopeful about incoming rain, much more rain will be needed to balance the air’s humidity again.
A nonprofit coordinating volunteer effort called for more than 1,800 volunteers to help. On Monday, Dec. 5, Volunteer East Tennessee opened a facility to delegate which volunteers go where depending on demands. These volunteers are being directed into whatever area needs the most help. Some volunteers are helping homeowners clean their houses of ash and other debris. Jaden Bratton, who overlooks the Jubilee Warehouse, speaks to Gatlinburg’s substantial influx of donations: “Right now, we’re just getting the donations in and getting them to the people who need them as fast as we can.” These donations range anywhere from lamps to Keurigs to toiletry items. However, Brett said victims of the fire need food and money most of all