Former Gatlinburg fire chief reflects as new wildfires burn in East Tennessee

Sevier County wildfires
Posted at 4:20 PM, Apr 04, 2022

GALLATIN, Tenn. (WTVF) — Wildfires have ravaged Sevier County six years after deadly fires destroyed parts of Gatlinburg.

In late 2016, wildfires decimated parts of the tourist town that left 14 people dead. It took years for the area to recover from the destruction.

"It’ll never happen here. You can only say that once," former Gatlinburg fire chief Greg Miller said. He was there in 2016 when a fire burned down the mountainside.

Now, people in Sevier County are facing this nightmare again. Thousands of acres have burned, and hundreds of structures have been destroyed.

"And then having a wildfire with drought with a strong wind coming in making another wind-driven event like in 2016, it causes concern for the safety of people," Miller said,

Fortunately, no one has died, but it brings back a lot of memories for Miller, who serves now as the Sumner County EMS Chief.

“This was a smaller scale compared to what it was in 2016, but it remained a smaller scale because of a lot of the things that had been put into place," Miller said.

He said that after reviewing their wildfire response, changes were made.

"So, you have multiple ways to notify the public," Miller said. "And it’s much different than notifying the public that lives there because you get 80% of the people in Sevier County, they are tourists, from out of town."

He believes people now take the threat seriously too.

"They were a lot more receptive to the evacuation order this time as well, whereas there was a lot of resistance to that before," Miller said.

He knows in his heart the Great Smoky Mountain community is resilient. They'll bounce back from this too.

"They’ve used the term mountain tough," Miller said.

Investigators still aren't sure what started this latest fire.