GATLINBURG, TN (WJHL)- One year ago Tuesday, wildfires claimed 14 lives and destroyed thousands of buildings in Gatlinburg and Sevier County.
A small fire started five days before, five miles away in the Great Smokey Mountain National Park. Hurricane force winds carried the fire into the heart of Sevier County.
Some people say their only indication to evacuate was the flames they saw out their window. And as the sun rose, reality sank in as the devastation was revealed.
That fire killed 14 people, damaged or destroyed 2,400 buildings and homes, and burned 17,000 acres, a total of two billion dollars of damage to Gatlinburg.
From the beginning the people of Sevier County have pressed on to rebuild this beloved town from homes to businesses. People from near and far showing up to lend a helping hand.
The fire also sparked change. Firefighters will get new smartphones with better access to mapping technology. A better emergency notification system is being installed including a siren system, John Matthews, the director for Sevier County Emergency Management Agency said. Matthews said the plan is to install 14 sirens in the city and county. He said the agency also wants to add evacuation signs to help people get out safely.
And one year later, on November 28th, the community will gather together once again, at a ceremony to honor those who died, recognize first responders, and give thanks for the progress made in the past year.
The community is invited to the service at 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday, at the Rocky Top Sports World Complex at 1870 Sports World Blvd. The venue helped thousands of Gatlinburg residents and visitors as the community relief shelter in the days following the devastating wildfires.
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