GATLINBURG, Tenn. (WATE) — Being aware of the potential for wildfires in East Tennessee has taken on more importance since the deadly wildfires of November last year.
That’s why fire officials and experts in the field are changing the conversation from what happened then to what residents and communities can do now. Homeowners learned about what they can do to protect their homes in the future at a community meeting in Gatlinburg on Thursday.
Nathan Waters with the Division of Forestry said, “if something positive can come out of any fire, it’s looking around and saying, ‘I better prepared.'”
The Gatlinburg Fire Department and Tennessee Division of Forestry are teaming up to propose a “Firewise Community.” The national program is designed to prepare, prevent and fight wildfires before they start.
“Like any homeowner, there are things inside that are memories, photographs. Just things you don’t want to lose,” said Cindy Mitchell from Sevierville.
Mitchell lives in Sevierville, where a fire came inches away from her home several years ago.
“We thought we were safe. The fire is down there, but the firemen came up to our house that morning and said that we should really evacuate. So we backed a bag quick and headed out,” said Mitchell.
Mitchell and her husband addressed safety concerns around their property and became Firewise after that close call.
“One of the things we did was cut all the pine trees within 30 feet,” said Mitchell.
Creating defensible space is one of the lessons taught. Instructors say not only will clearing trees help protect your home, but it will make it easier for firefighters to gain access.
“They can get in there and do a lot more if people have a little bit of defensible space if they blow the leaves away,” Waters added.
Doing something as simple as trimming the trees or mowing the lawn can make all the difference.
“We’re constantly racking, trimming, there’s just all sorts of things someone can learn from a firewise program,” said Mitchell.
Homeowners like Mitchell hope more people will take advantage of a program like this to make thier homes and neighborhoods safer from wildfires.