Gateway towns around Great Smoky Mountains NP prepare for “new normal” of higher wildfire danger
On a warm, clear November Tuesday in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, survivors paused to remember the dead—the 14 people killed in a fast-moving wildfire that swept out of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park a year ago, leaving behind more than 2,500 ruined homes and businesses.
Rangers had been monitoring what was at first a small fire for five days, before it morphed and came roaring down the slopes of a 4,800-foot peak known as Chimney Tops, whipped on by wind gusts of up to 80 mph from an approaching storm. A deep, lengthy drought in the southern Appalachian Mountains had left plenty of dry brush, logs, and leaves in its path. As the fire moved toward Gatlinburg, park rangers and city officials struggled to communicate because their radios worked on different frequencies and large areas lacked cell phone service.