Gatlinburg wildfire survivors await answers after judge’s ruling on gag order


GATLINBURG (WATE) – Judge Jeff Rader ruled has the gag order concerning the Sevier County wildfires only applies to attorneys and court officials in the case. Now, wildfire survivors are expecting answers from their city and county governments.

“We’re hoping that will help move this forward and get things done, get answers and people can move on with their lives,” said Sharon Hirschfield.

Mark Robinson was staying in a rental cabin with his family when the wildfires burned through parts of the county.

Previous story: Judge issues order allowing release of some records in Gatlinburg wildfires

“I was concerned because being in emergency management, the responses they were giving were not the kind of responses I expected,” said Robinson. “It looked to me like they were just trying to brush it under the rug and move on, and that really angered me actually.”

Sharon Hirschfield says until the records are released, someone is held accountable and new evacuation plans are put in place, she doesn’t feel safe driving or living on Ski Mountain.

“I’m hoping now maybe they will begin to acknowledge that we do have serious issues and that they can be corrected,” said Hirschfield.

Amanda Thornton had to leave her home the night of the wildfires. She says she wants the city to be better prepared for another disaster, so people won’t have to lose their lives like her dear friend Pam Johnson.

“If the officials would just release it and say, ‘This is where we were wrong, here’s where we are going to fix it,’” said Thornton.

Some survivors, like Erik Cooper, say the amount of time it’s taken for this to come to light is unacceptable.

“The gag order being lifted now is untimely, though we are grateful,” said Cooper. “Now we will see a new series of excuses for why the city of Gatlinburg and Sevier County cannot and will not answer questions from the community holding them accountable for their actions on November 28.”

A spokesperson for the city of Gatlinburg says there are no new updates on if and when these records will be released. Sevier County government officials did not respond to WATE 6 On Your Side’s inquiry.

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