Updated for: 06/30/17
Today, 11Alive News reported that they have dropped the charges against the two teens Gaitlinburg held responsible for this fire. I could not see it then and I can’t see it today, how anyone would think it was the teens fault for doing this.
I took a trip to Gaitlinburg and Pigeon Forge to observe the devastation from the fires of November 23rd, 2016. Two teens have been blamed with the fire that:
- Destroyed 17,136 Acres of land
- 1,123 Destroyed residential Homes
- 14 Homes had major damaged
- 71 Homes had minor damage
- 181 Homes were affected in one way or another by the fire (this could be smoke or water damage)
- 58 Structures that were businesses were destroyed
- 3 Structures had major damage
- 2 Structures had minor damage
- 10 Structures were affected in one way or another.
- 14 people lost their lives
- 134 people were injured in one way or another.
The two teens are 15 and 17 years old. The 17 year old has a parent that works for the Sheriff’s Department. Both teens have an attorney, but neither attorney is speaking to the media. The boys are accused of walking up the hiking trail lighting matches and throwing them down on the trail. These lit matches eventually lead to the fire that done all of the above damage. I spoke to some of the people in Tennessee and they seem to feel these kids should have to serve at least 10 years.
Well, I have a problem with this. The following is the time line for the fires:
- Wednesday, November 23rd at 5:30pm
- Firefighters observe smoke coming from the Chimney Tops
- As it got dark, they hike the trail to the Chimney Tops and find a small fire that had burned about 1.5 acres already.
- With the darkness and the rough terrain (the hiking trail for the Chimney Tops is for Advanced Hikers), the firefighters decided that there was nothing they could do and returned to the office.
- Thursday, November 24th
- Firefighters hiked the trail again and marked off 410 acres that the fire was allowed to burn. This was more or less a way of roping off and area for the fire to burn itself out.
- Friday, November 25th
- The fire continued to climb down the rocky terrain.
- The firefighters continued to look for alternate moves, but no safe alternatives were found.
- Saturday, November 26th We are at 6 acres that have burned
- A 4-Day Near Term Analysis from the USFS Rocky Mountain Research Station was requested. The analyses said that the fire would grow at a slow rate and move slowly toward the boundaries that have been set for it.
- Sunday, November 27th We are at 35 acres that have burned
- The Storm Team said that humidity dropped and winds picked up to cause the conditions to change on Monday. The Storm Team said that winds would be anywhere between 12 – 25 miles per hour (mph) and the gusts could be as high as 40mph.
- The estimates were much lower than expected. Some of the gusts were as high as 87 mph.
- 3 Helicopters were ordered to dump large buckets of water on the hottest parts of the fire to hold it at the containment lines.
- On the ground, firelines were formed to fight the fire from the ground.
- Late Sunday, the fire was still only at 35 acres had been burned.
- Monday, November 28th
- The Storm Team informs the firefighters that the weather conditions changed drastically overnight from the forecast they had given just 24 hours prior.
- Strong winds had pushed the fire to the Northeast.
- Now they were fighting what was called spot fires which are embers that fly up from a major fire and land in a spot and form another fire.
- The spot fires were anywhere from ½ a mile to a 1 mile from the main fire.
- This was deemed extraordinary fire behavior. Fires like this only happen in the plain states.
- A larger effort to fight the fires was called in.
- Warnings were sent to Gaitlinburg Fire Department about the impending spot fires (although, the firefighters seen it unlikely).
- Because of the smoke, it became impossible to track the acreage at this point.
- Within 3 hours, the fire had jumped 3 miles away from the main fire with spot fires.
- The largest call out for other firefighters ever in Gaitlinburg history went out.
- Between 5:45-6:00pm the power went out to the weather tools and multiple trees were falling, power lines were falling, and several more spot fires started.
- Mandatory evacuations of small communities started at 6pm.
- There is no fire warning on the emergency sirens, so the flood warning siren went off twice between 8:30 and 9:30pm.
Yes, these boys were acting in a way that was dangerous in drought conditions. Honestly, do you think these two teens even knew what a drought was? Sure, we studied that in science in school, but how many science projects are about drought conditions? I cannot remember seeing one science project that resembled the affects of a drought. You tell me, after seeing this time line and seeing that no real effort to put the fires that started on November 23rd out started until November 27th, what do you think? There were 4 days there that the firefighters done the minimum efforts to fight what turned out to be devastating fires.
Back to question one, what would a county do to cover up a catastrophe? Why would they want to cover it up? Let me start with the why. As I said, I went up there and I was talking to different people about the fires and went fishing for their thoughts. For the most part, these people thought those teens needed to hang because they left so many people devastated. One guy said that his house was paid for and he lost everything he owned in the fire. He went to FEMA and asked for help and they turned him down because he made too much money. Apparently, even the money that Dolly Parton offered was tainted. She would not help him either. In my experience, I have learned one thing, if you find one with a story like this, there are usually a lot more that do not have an outlet to get theirs out, but nonetheless have the same story. So, why would a county want to cover up a catastrophe, because they do not want to be the ones that is sued because of their neglect. Plain and simple, this was neglect at its best. A firefighter with 25 years experience is in charge of fighting this fire and this was the best that someone with 25 years experience could come up with.
Both of the teens have attorneys and as I sit here tonight writing this, my heart goes out to these boys that are in lock-up until the judge decides what kind of release they would be eligible for. Honestly, they probably would not be safe on the streets anyways. The people in Tennessee all believe the legal officials when they say that these teens caused all this devastation. NO, they did not cause all of it. Sure, they set the fire, but it was not their job to fight the fires. How would this be their fault? I do not see it.
Give me your opinions, I sure would like to hear them.
Crimes Worthy of Ink
Tabitha Sampson Rohm