Gatlinburg wildfires: A minute by minute account of the deadly firestorm

Published: Jul. 9, 2017 at 5:30 PM EDT
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It's been over 7 months since 14 people were killed, thousands of structures were destroyed, and over 14,000 people were forced to evacuate Gatlinburg on November 28, 2016. People across East Tennessee are demanding answers about the events surrounding what was labeled as the state's largest and deadliest wildfire in the last century.

911 call logs from November 28, 2016, obtained by Local 8 News help piece together a timeline of events during the deadly firestorms that shook the people of Sevier County to the core, but showed the world the grit and volunteer spirit of East Tennesseans.


November 23, 2016

Chimney Tops II fire started at the north spire of the Chimney Tops.

November 24, 2016

An incident commander determined a fire line was not needed.

November 26, 2016

Investigators reported small growth in the fire.

November 27, 2016

11:35 a.m. -- Winds picked up and additional fire crews were ordered to the fire scene. The GSMNP Superintendent said the fire did not pose a threat to the public before the wind picked up.

Spot fires spread outside of the containment area. The Gatlinburg fire chief told media outlets the fire projections showed there would be no spread to Gatlinburg until midday November 29.

November 28, 2016

11:45 a.m. -- All manpower and resources from the Gatlinburg Fire Department was requested for the scene of the wildfire.

11:53 a.m. -- Twin Creek Command described the fire as a fast moving brush fire, grown to the size of a couple of acres.

12:12 p.m. -- Wildland Task Force was activated. Level 2 staging was determined for 303 Reagan Drive.

12:19 p.m. -- All manpower and resources from the Sevierville Fire Department from Station 2 was requested for the scene of the wildfire.

12:24 p.m. -- Emergency Management Agency was notified.

12:25 p.m. -- All manpower and resources from the Pigeon Forge Fire Department was requested for the scene of the wildfire.

12:34 p.m. -- Officials estimated five to seven acres burning with no visibility.

1:07 p.m. -- Emergency Management Agency requested the Red Cross to be placed on standby and determind that if needed, an evacuee shelter would be at the Gatlinburg Community Center.

1:36 p.m. -- Emergency Management Agency fully activated the Red Cross shelter for voluntary evacuees.

1:50 p.m. -- GSMNP advised the fire had jumped Cherokee Orchard Road and was starting to head towards Park Vista.

2:14 p.m. -- The Regional Task Force was activated for structural teams and wildland teams.

3:15 p.m. -- Cliff Branch and Wiley Oakley brush fire was reported. Units from the Level 2 staging area were sent to the area.

3:28 p.m. -- Crews made contact with the Cliff Branch fire and reported that the fire was out when they arrived on scene. All units were canceled and sent back to the Level 2 staging area.

3:53 p.m. -- Gatlinburg Police Department advised the fire had moved past Park Vista onto Turkey Nest.

3:56 p.m. -- Forestry crews cut down a line by Park Vista to try to prevent the fire from reaching Turkey Nest.

4:08 p.m. -- Fire was reported to have been one mile from the Mynatt area. Officials said door to door evacuations started in Mynatt Park in the afternoon, but did not specify an exact time.

5:39 p.m. -- Crews were advised that the fire was within one mile of the Sugarlands/Park Headquarters

5:59 p.m. -- Gatlinburg Police reported that the fire jumped the line formed above the Park Vista.

6:06 p.m. -- The fire was determined to now be in the city of Gatlinburg.

6:27 p.m. -- Other mandatory evacuations after the Mynatt Park evacuations were made in the area.

8 p.m. -- Ski Mountain was added to the mandatory evacuations list.

9:04 p.m. -- Certain officials reported that evacuations went out on cell phones. The Gatlinburg Fire Chief said TEMA did not send out a mass evacuation alert because the verbiage was not correct and cell phone towers were crashed. A siren alarm system was used to evacuate the Gatlinburg area. It is uncertain what time the sirens starting sounding.

November 29, 2016

Multiple shelters were set up, where some survivors remained for more than one week.

November 30, 2016

Officials started releasing names of victims who lost their lives in the wildfires.

December 3, 2016

Families were allowed to drive past the Gatlinburg checkpoint to visit their homes and assess damage.

December 7, 2016

7 a.m. -- Property owners, business owners, renters, and lease holders were allowed to return to full time occupancy through the East Parkway entry point.

Officials announced that two juveniles were accused of starting the wildfires.

December 9, 2016

7 a.m. -- The Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the city of Gatlinburg reopened to the public, though a number of spots within the park remained closed.

December 13, 2016

Sevier County Mayor announced that all fires in the city area and the park were extinguished.

March 21, 2017

Local 8 News reported that over 100 people were filing a lawsuit against the National Parks Service about the wildfires.

June 30, 2017

Attorney Greg Isaacs announced that state charges were dropped against the two juveniles accused of starting the wildfires.

Investigators said the State was unable to prove the criminal responsibility of the two juveniles beyond a reasonable doubt for the devastation that happened outside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park due to the high wind speeds that spread the Chimney Tops II fire from the Great Smoky Mountains to Gatlinburg and parts of Sevier County.

Authorities told our sister station Local 8 News the minors could still face federal charges even though the state charges were dropped.