GATLINBURG (WATE) – As WATE 6 On Your Side continues to sift through thousands of public records being released from the city of Gatlinburg, Sevier County, and the state of Tennessee, many viewers are reaching out with concerns.
Many concerns have to do with the evacuation system and how it worked the night of the wildfires. Jane Morris emailed WATE 6 On Your Side Wednesday night about a call she made that night in November to the Gatlinburg Police Department.
Morris says she asked about evacuations just after 8 p.m. that night and never got a definitive answer. She was told, “You can leave if you like.”
For months, Morris has found herself in front of her computer researching. “Because of the unanswered questions,” she said.
Many wildfire survivors, like her, say as 911 calls, dashcam footage, emails, and more are released it’s a step forward. Morris adds that the information is giving a clearer picture as to what really happened the night of the wildfires.
“I know hindsight is 20/20, but it would’ve been better to have been a little bit more prepared,” said Morris.
On the night of the wildfires, a total evacuation of the city was ordered around 8 p.m.
“First of all, I guess and what everyone wants to know, who gives that order? I don’t know,” said Morris.
There are also many questions coming from survivors wanting to know the chain of command that night and who was in charge. They want leaders to accept responsibility.
“You don’t know where to put the blame, you want to put it on someone. But I think if they would just hold a news conference or just say, ‘Look. We did not know what to do. Let’s clear the air. We made these mistakes,'” said Morris.
As East Tennessee sees, reads, and learns more from the public records, wildfire survivors say it can bring back bad memories but it’s something we need to see because it’s a way to learn.
“We can be better. You’ve got to move on and make it better. You’ve got to find some kind of forgiveness too,” added Morris.
The WATE 6 On Your Side newsroom also reached out to the City of Gatlinburg and Sevier County to see what their emergency evacuation plans are for the future.
Sevier County plans to upgrade and implement five things. They’re expanding the Code Red notification system. The Integrated Public Alert and Warning System, or IPAWS, is being expanded which will send alert notifications simultaneously to news, weather radios, and cell phones. They’re also updating the siren system, printing information to be available in all rental units about emergency plans, and including new road signs to help drivers navigate down mountainous roads.
The City of Gatlinburg has a very similar plan. They’ve also applied for a grant that would allow them to print pamphlets, flip charts, and guides making sure everyone in Sevier County and Gatlinburg knows what to do in case of an emergency.