Gatlinburg wildfire survivors demand answers from city leaders

GATLINBURG (WATE) – Dozens of Gatlinburg fire victims came together Tuesday night to ask questions during the Gatlinburg Commission meeting. For many, it was their first opportunity to share their stories and speak directly to city leaders about the response to the fires.

They demanded answers from city leaders about calls on evacuations, but no answers were given. Emotions are still raw in Gatlinburg, as though the fire happened just yesterday, and they’re struggling to move on because so many are waiting for answers about the city’s response.

“You can never get over your son saying they don’t want to die,” Melinda Stites told commissioners.

It was the first opportunity for survivors like Stites to share their stories and ask questions directly to those in charge.

“The main question that everybody has is why were we not evacuated sooner,” she said.

“We were left to die. And it happened when it should not have happened,” said Tammy Sherrod.

Sherrod drove almost two hours to come to the meeting and share her story with the packed room.

“We are supporting each other because Gatlinburg is not supporting us,” Sherrod said. “Gatlinburg is not going to exist without its residents.”

Many people at the meeting said they felt the city is focusing more on its businesses than its people and are not satisfied with how the meeting went.

“This meeting went exactly how I expected it to go. Which is we did not get one answer,” said Sherrod.

However, the residents say they feel they are a step closer to getting answers.

“It’s going to start opening eyes of officials and starting to get the word out instead of inside these walls,” said Stites.

Stites and Sherrod both hope Gatlinburg city leaders answer their questions soon, but from past experience, they say they don’t expect that to happen. They do say they will keep asking until they get closure.

Mayor Mike Werner declined a request to speak about his thoughts on the meeting.

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