Safety steps for returning home after wildfires

Downtown Gatlinburg from the Space Needle following the wildfires.

GATLINBURG (WATE) – With many people returning to their homes Wednesday after the deadly wildfires in Gatlinburg, the Tennessee Department of Agriculture has some safety advice.

When driving to your property, check for trees, brush and rocks that may be weakened or loosened by fire. Trees and brush could fall and rocks could roll and crumble. Watch out for debris or damage on roads and driveways. Clearing debris to the edge of your driveway and removing it later will help keep your home safe from fire. Also, watch out for utility poles weakened by fire.

At your property, check for things like hot embers in rain gutters, on the roof, under overhangs, under decks, in crawlspaces, in woodpiles, in debris piles, and in the lawn. Make sure your well or pump-house, if you have one, is in working order. If electrical source has not been interrupted, you may continue to use power for such things as pumping water.

More coverage: Gatlinburg & East Tennessee Wildfires

If your services are off, check for burned service equipment and facilities. If there is visible damage to the gas meter, gas line or propane tank, do not attempt to repair or turn them on. Call the local propane company or utility. If there is visible damage to your electric meter, do not try to turn the breaker on. If there are electrical wires on the ground, stay clear and contact the local utility company immediately.

You can then move on to checking the inside for fire or fire damage, including embers in the attic. If the electricity is off, make sure all appliances are off before turning it on. Check if the phone is working, as are security systems and alarms. Use flashlights to help inspect your home and the surrounding area.

If you have a fire or other emergency, stay away and report the condition to the fire department or law enforcement. If you find damaged utility equipment, call the local utility.

Tennessee Emergency Management Agency says ash from the fires can contain hazardous materials. To avoid spreading ash in the air, wet it down before attempting removal or use a HEPA-type vacuum cleaner. Do not use leaf blowers, a shop vacuum or wash ash into storm drains. Ash can be placed into garbage bags or other containers to prevent it from being disturbed. You may want to wear a face mask and wash exposed skin thoroughly.

Gatlinburg residential and household waste pickup is running as scheduled in accessible areas.

Water supplies have been greatly affected by firefighting activities. Water may appear cloudy or discolored for a period of time. Running a substantial amount of water through all outlets in the plumbing system should clear it out. If you have questions about your water service, please call the Gatlinburg Water Department 436-4681.  County water customers on Birds Creek who have questions about their water service can call Sevier County Water Department at 865-744-3852.

Take note of trees and poles with deep charring, especially if still smoking. They could still be dangerous. Watch for smoldering holes in the ground that can be full of hot coals. Remember that white ash is evidence of hot material.

Discard any cooked and uncooked foods that may have spoiled. If food looks or smells bad, throw it out.

Please beware that lost pets may be in the area.  They may be frightened and possibly dangerous.  The Sevier County Human Society has set up an animal care center at the Sevier County Fairgrounds.  To report lost or missing pets call the Sevier County Humane Society at 865-453-7000.

Tennessee Driver Services Division is working with residents who lost their licenses or identification cards. Tennessee citizens can apply for a duplicate license at the Sevier County Driver Services Center. The center is open Monday-Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.  The center is located at 1220 Graduate Drive, Sevierville.

More online: Mountain Tough

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