KNOXVILLE (WATE) – Lincoln Memorial University Law School hosted a symposium Thursday called “Fire in the Smokies, Rising from the Ashes.” During the symposium, several topics were discussed including the legal ramifications the fire could bring.
Sid Gilreath is an attorney representing around 100 wildfire victims. He says there are a number of legal issues that could come out of the tragedy.
“One of the main concerns is how do they regain their health?” said Gilreath. “How do they recover for the destruction of their home and their property and what they have to do to rebuild and comply with all the government regulations?”
Gilreath says one question must be answered when looking into these issues.
“How could due care on the part of one individual or the government have prevented this injury?” asked Gilreath.
Gilreath says no lawsuits have been filed at this time, but he says the government could be held responsible for a number of issues including a lack of warning.
Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters says he hopes people will remember how complex all of these issues are.
“They are legal implications out there and everyone understands that,” said Waters. “I think the more folks get a better understanding of how complicated this whole issue is I think the more they’ll appreciate those involved.”
Another issue discussed was the possible environmental implications.
“After the wildfire, because of the current site conditions, because of the burn and the loss of vegetation, you get a lot more soil erosion. You get a lot more flooding and mud flows,” said Environmental Consultant Michael Harding.
Harding says one issue that could be a big problem is water contamination.
“Water supplies could be affected,” said Harding. “Either through the amount of water you have available to you or the type of contaminants that could go into it from the ash and the debris. I mean think about what’s in your garage.”
Duane Graves with Geosyntec says major water issues, such as those in Flint, Michigan, are unlikely to happen in Sevier County.
“I think the implications for water here are not so extreme,” said Graves. “Chances are good. The system is flushed, we’re not going to have a lot of problems. The smart thing or liability management and for public assurance is just to look and will probably find nothing but you don’t know if you don’t look.”