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Wildfire survivors demanding answers and change

(WYMT)
Published: May. 10, 2017 at 1:41 PM EDT
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More than two dozen wildfire survivors wore shirts at Tuesday's City Commission meeting to honor the 14 people killed in the November Gatlinburg wildfires.

Chris Dunaway, the leader of the wildfire survivors group, said members of the group have a variety of frustrations, and Tuesday's meeting was the first time the victims' names have been read aloud.

"I think it's extremely important. It's been 5 whole months and no memorial, no talk of a memorial," said Dunaway.

At the beginning of the meeting a moment of silence was held, and each victim name was read aloud.

Dunaway said the purpose of the group is to honor the victims and demand change. He said Gatlinburg is not safe.

"I want safety for Gatlinburg, that's my number one concern is safety for Gatlinburg."

Soon after the moment of silence, 14 people asked questions and shared their stories from that night. Many people said they are upset there was no evacuation. Others said they were told repeatedly that everything was ok and there was no need to leave Gatlinburg.

"I called down about 6:45 to the non-emergency police department. They told me I would be notified if we needed to leave and that we were in no danger. 15 minutes later my porch was on fire and I was running."

Each person that signed up to speak was given 3 minutes to share and ask questions, but the mayor and the city commission did not answer any of those questions.

Members of the wildfire survivor group said they will not stop asking the hard questions such as why there was no evacuation, why a new evacuation plan is not in place and what environmental health concerns there are.

One member called on the mayor to stand up for his community.

"We will not forget, and we will continue as long as it takes to ask the hard questions. I encourage you to stand up for your community. The country is watching you, and our children are watching."

Mayor Mike Werner did not have any comment on the issue after Tuesday's meeting.