Gov. Haslam on Sevier Co. wildfires: ‘All of Tennessee shares our sorrow over the loss here’

(Photo: TEMA)

UPDATE 4:05 p.m.- Officials confirmed Tuesday afternoon that three people have died as a result of wildfires in the Great Smoky Mountains.

“I have now been able to confirm the loss of three lives in Sevier County,” Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters said during the news conference. “We’re deeply saddened by these losses and we extend our prayers to the family.”

Gov. Bill Haslam, as well as Congressman Phil Roe, were at the news conference Tuesday.

“I think all of Tennessee shares our sorrow over the loss here, of the loss of life and all the other damage that has been done here,” Haslam said. “This is a special place in the state of Tennessee. Millions of families have come here and will continue to come here to enjoy being families, enjoy being together and people have realized this is a special part of the world for a long time and it will remain that.”

Fire Chief Greg Miller said fire crews are expecting 60 mph winds this evening ahead of more rain.

“We may spend a lot of this evening fighting more fires,” Miller said.

Officials said another news conference has been planned for 11 a.m. Wednesday to provide an update on the wildfires and fire damage in the county.

UPDATE 11:36 a.m.- Emergency officials and the mayor of Gatlinburg said multiple structures in Sevier County have either been damaged or destroyed by the wildfires in the Great Smoky Mountains.

Watch the full news conference below:

“At this point, I can report to you that we have over 150 structures in the county — I’m not talking about any of the cities, but just in the county — have been damaged or destroyed,” officials said. “We’re never seen an event like this and it’s going to take time to recover, but we know the character of the people of Sevier County and the character of the people of this state that’s helping us and we have every confidence that we’re going to recover and move forward.”

Fire Chief Greg Miller said over 2,000 people checked into the Red Cross shelter at Rocky Top Sports World and in Pigeon Forge.

Miller said those shelters would remain open as long as necessary providing medical support, food and places to sleep.

“It’s difficult to go out into a community and try to protect and serve others when your own property and everything you’ve worked for is burning down,” Miller said. ”

Mayor of Gatlinburg Mike Warner said during the news conference that he appreciates the outpouring of support and response to the fires, and reassured community members that Gatlinburg will rebuild.

“Our community has suffered through some significant storm damage over the years, but nothing like this,” Warner said. “Gatlinburg is a very strong, very resilient community. We’ve got people that are reaching out to people here from all over the country.”

TDOT spokesperson Mark Nagi Tweeted out the following videos showing fire damage in Ober Gatlinburg and crews clearing roads in Gatlinburg.


News Channel 11 crews are in the Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge area gathering the latest reports on the wildfires and the surrounding that was community impacted.

Photographer Stephen Greene posted this video of an area that was touched by the wildfires.

GATLINBURG, TN (WJHL) – Tennessee Emergency Management Agency officials have said three people have been taken from University of Tennessee Medical Center to Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville with severe burns, as wildfires in the Great Smoky Mountains continue.

TEMA officials also said a fourth person is at UT Medical Center with burns to their face and is still being evaluated.

No fatalities have been reported.

TEMA officials said thousands of residents were evacuated from Sevier County last night and said it is likely close to 14,000 residents and visitors were evacuated from Gatlinburg.

Numerous roads remain closed and blocked by fallen trees and power lines.  State Hwy. 441 heading into Gatlinburg is closed, except for emergency traffic.  State Hwy. 441 leaving Gatlinburg is open to evacuating traffic.
Additionally, the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency has liaison officers in Sevier County and has activated the East Tennessee Regional Coordination Center to facilitate resource requests and mission assignments.
According to TEMA, around 1,100 people are in four shelters at this time.
Almost 11,600 people are without power right now in Sevier County. TEMA is also reporting that a temporary flight restriction is in place.
TEMA officials also said that Ober Gatlinburg, which had previously been reported as destroyed by the wildfires, has escaped the fires.
“A video posted on Ober Gatlinburg appears to show the facility is OK this morning,” Dean Flener, executive officer for external relations with TEMA, said. “We received on-the-ground reports last night and early this morning indicating the facility was destroyed. We are relieved to know this important Tennessee destination is still there.”

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