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Sevier County, City of Gatlinburg, TEMA, and Great Smoky Mountain National Park issue wildfires update
DECEMBER 4, 2016 at 2:11 p.m.

GATLINBURG — Local, state, and federal crews are continuing their coordinated response in containing the Chimney Tops 2 Fire, suppressing structural flair ups in the City of Gatlinburg, conducting thorough damage assessments, and in helping residents get services and resources they need to move our community toward recovery. Local officials have provided the following update:

• To date, there are 13 confirmed fatalities. The following individuals have been newly identified: Edward Taylor, age 85, unknown address; Bradley Phillips, age 59, discovered at 412 Long Hollow Road; and Constance Reed, age 34, Chloe Reed, age 12, and Lily Reed, age 9, discovered at 347 Wiley Oakley Drive.

• To date, there have been 100 individuals who sustained injuries related to the fire and were treated at LeConte Medical Center.

• 1,413 structures have been damaged or destroyed by the fire.

• There are currently 19 crews, 47 engines, 6 helicopters, 5 dozers, 605 total personnel fighting the Chimney Top 2 Fire as a part of the Type 1 Federal Incident Management Team.

• The evacuated areas in Gatlinburg are open for access each day from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. through the check point at Gatlinburg City Hall via East Parkway (Hwy. 321) and Glades Road. This restriction shall remain in effect until the city reopens for the general public.

• The curfew remains in effect from 6:00 p.m. until 6:00 a.m. nightly.

• The Spur parkway is open only from Pigeon Forge to the Gatlinburg Welcome Center. There will be no access to Wiley Oakley from the Spur.

• Wiley Oakley Drive and Greystone Heights Road remain inaccessible due to critical utility work. Emergency crews are working to open it as soon as possible.

• The Water Boil Advisory is still in effect for Gatlinburg, with the exception of the areas east of City Hall.

Officials released the following details regarding the coordinated public response in warning the public about the fire storm. Officials worked diligently to coordinate the warning to the public before and during the catastrophic wildfire event that impacted Gatlinburg, other communities in Sevier County, and the park. Throughout the day, on Monday, November 28, officials sent media releases, utilized social media, and held media briefings to alert the public about the status of the fire to help them remain aware of the urgency of the continuously evolving situation.

Notifications were sent to the general public through widespread media coverage beginning with multiple news releases from the park beginning at approximately 10:00 a.m., regular news briefings beginning at 2:00 p.m., and the downtown Gatlinburg siren alert system to warn the public about the impending dangerous winds and fire threat. Officials made door-to-door notifications, beginning at noon, to affected communities.

Throughout the day, the command post was in contact with state emergency agencies about emergency response. At approximately 8:30 p.m., the command post contacted the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) requesting an Emergency Alert System (EAS) evacuation message to be sent to the Gatlinburg area through the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), a system which has the capability of sending text messages to mobile devices.

However, communications between the agencies was interrupted due to disabled phone, internet, and electrical services. Due to this communication failure, the emergency notification was not delivered as planned through IPAWS as an EAS message or as a text message to mobile devices. At the same time, the National Weather Service was unable to reach the local command post. Through collaboration with the Sevier County Dispatch, they were able to deliver the mandatory evacuation alert through an EAS message to radio and television only. Once communications were reestablished, TEMA was able to send a mobile message later in the evening via IPAWS asking Sevier County residents to stay off mobile devices except for emergency use.

Despite the catastrophic events that created barriers to communication, officials utilized all resources available to them at the time to warn the public of the impending threat. The multi-agency response of firefighters, police, and emergency responders continues to work efficiently as they enter the recovery phase.

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Published December 4, 2016

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