Park didn’t heed Gatlinburg firestorm ‘call to action’

Officials should have doused a 1.5-acre fire in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park days before high winds created a megafire that swept into Gatlinburg, former U.S. Forest Service firefighters said .

At the very least, said retired employees with almost 200 years of firefighting experience, officials in the National Park should have summoned every resource available when alerted Nov. 26 of the expected high winds.

Former U.S. Forest Service firefighters agreed park officials didn’t pay attention to the severe drought, low humidity that provided a tinderbox for flames, available options to quell the slow-moving fire before winds made the flames uncontrollable and alarming weather forecasts.

National Park Deputy Superintendent Clay Jordan, however, said all the options outlined by park Fire Management Officer Greg Salansky, who oversaw the Chimney Tops 2 fire, “made sense to me.”

“There was no way the fire could have been extinguished before the winds came,” Jordan said. When the winds came, the fire ignored Salansky’s containment plan.

“Much to our surprise, it had spotted across Newfound Gap Road to Bullhead Ridge a half mile to a mile away,” Jordan said.

“Our fire manager has never seen fire spot that far. It was unheard of around here.”

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