Wildfire survivors share concerns at Gatlinburg City Commission meeting

GATLINBURG (WATE) – The Gatlinburg City Commission meeting Tuesday night was an opportunity for the wildfire survivor group to share their concerns.

Speakers asked questions like, “Why was the bypass shut already if that no one felt any sort of concern?” and “Why haven’t you contacted FEMA about housing for the victims with FEMA trailers?”

Mayor Mike Werner warned at the start of the meeting for any speakers to keep from repeating information that had already been shared before. Each speaker that signed up beforehand was given three minutes to speak, using the time however they chose.

Chris Dunaway gave his remaining time for a moment of silence in honor of the 14 victims that died in November’s fires. He read each of their names and had a member of the wildfire survivor group stand. At the end, 14 people were standing.

The city commission listened intently and seemed to be taking notes during the speaking portion of the meeting, though they didn’t respond to each individual speaker when they were asked questions they answered.

After the meeting, two speakers said those three minutes helped.

“It felt good. Because I think they should be ashamed of themselves,” said Susan Born.

“We’re asking for accountability from city officials. We want them to stand up for us. Acknowledge us,” said Merry Dumas.

At the same meeting, a UT professor who has warned homeowners about the dangers of living in the Smoky Mountains spoke out again. He specifically pointed to last Friday when a small fire burned in the Pittman Center area.

“It’s not a matter of if the fire comes, if fire happens. It’s a matter of when fire comes back. It’s going to happen again. We saw this on May 4, just last week. We’re going to see it again in the future,” said Henri Grissino-Mayer.

The Gatlinburg Convention and Visitors Bureau announced that visitors to the city have dropped in the past three months, compared to the same time last year.

From January to March of this year, there were 63,000 visitors to Gatlinburg, down about 9,000 from this time last year. According to the CVB, they only count visitors from the Spur Welcome Center and the Aquarium Welcome Center, and even though the numbers of down, they say there’s no clear way to know if it’s from the wildfires.


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