SEVIERVILLE (WATE) – Gatlinburg wildfire victims demanded answers from Sevier County leaders Monday. It was a packed house at the Sevier County Courthouse for the commission meeting on Monday night. However, most of the attention was given to a former park ranger.
Many of the people who signed up to speak gave their time to Jerry Grubb, a retired National Park Service ranger. He served 13 years with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
“The management of the National Park Service is responsible for the mismanagement that contributed to the cause of this fire,” said Grubb.
He pointed fingers at an organization he used to work for. He said he formed this opinion after the park released a timeline of the wildfires.
“Nothing but misleading. It was dissembling information,” he said.
Grubb said the park should have put out the fire right away. He said that should have been done according to the park’s fire management plan.
“If it is a wildfire, you put it out. You don’t look at a stupid computer and play games up here,” said Grubb.
He believed that decision was the reason for the loss of life.
“Had they gone back to their crisis management intervention and done what their regulations say they are supposed to do, it would have never happened,” he said.
Melinda Stites is a wildfire victim and also worked for the National Park Service. She agreed with Grubb’s point about protocol outlined in the park’s fire management plan.
“It was great to have somebody like him, a retired park ranger on our side. He knows what he is talking about,” said Stites.
Grubb gave a copy of his thoughts to Sevier County leaders. They said they were going to pass it along to lawmakers. Grubb said he emailed Sen. Bob Corker and he was told this was a matter for state and local representatives.
Grubb recalled a wildfire in New Mexico that happened in 2000. After that fire, he said a bill was passed to give almost $200,000,000 to victims. He believed the people of Gatlinburg should get that kind of financial help as well.
Dana Soehn, spokesperson with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, issued the following response:
From the onset, our focus was to put out the Chimney Tops 2 wildfire as safely and effectively as possible, as required by the park’s Fire Management Plan and National Park Service firefighting policy. Our firefighters initially responded to smoke that was coming from deep pockets of duff on extreme, near-vertical slopes of 70 – 80 degrees. Despite the terrain, we took action immediately. We provided a detailed timeline of events, our communication with city and county agencies, and most importantly, our actions. These can still be reviewed in-depth online on the Chimney Tops 2 Facebook site. As a reminder, an interagency fire review team comprised of wildland firefighting experts is currently looking into whether the specific actions we took were consistent with policy and professional firefighting practices.