GATLINBURG (WATE) – A team is now in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park investigating the wildfire from nearly two months ago. Representatives from several agencies are in town, bringing people from around the country with related specialties including fire behavior, fire operations and risk management specialists, a municipal fire department representative and more.
The wildfire that took 14 lives and grew to damage or destroy more than 2,000 buildings started in the park at the popular Chimney Tops Trail. This team wants to look at the response to the fire and look for lessons going forward.
Monday was all about listening and learning for the review board team. They were trying to understand what it was like in Gatlinburg the day the wildfire started until the day it was extinguished.
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“It’s a real anomaly, that’s for sure. If you look at whatever average is, it’s not average for this particular national park, this part of Tennessee to have these fires,” said Chimney Tops Review Team Leader Joe Stutler.
The team will be here for roughly two weeks trying to tackle that anomaly.
“When you have fires that get bigger, become more complex, and something of this magnitude, then you have different levels of review. This particular one, because of the size, and because of the outcomes, the park service at the national office said, ‘We’d like to have a review of our standards, our policy, our performance, our qualifications, and see how it stacks up,'” added Stutler.
The review board will be interviewing people, looking at dispatch log, and observing every aspect of the wildfire, including how it impacted the wildlife and vegetation.
“If you back it up some, some of the fact that this part of the county was in extreme and exceptional drought. The dryness and those kind of things significantly has an effect on the fire facts,” said Stutler.
It will take a month or so for the team to finalize the report. Stutler says they want to take as much time to do it right.
“Whatever we learn which would improve how we do things as a professional, it’ll be shared.”
Great Smoky Mountains National Park rangers say crews over the last few weeks have been out working on the damaged trails, among other areas of the park, rehabbing, reconfiguring, and making this place safe for hikers.