KNOXVILLE NEWS SENTINEL
By Don Jacobs
GATLINBURG, TENN. — Sevier County officials admit they never issued a mobile evacuation alert ahead of the wildfire that swept through town and killed 13 people Monday, but blame “communication failure” due to weather disruption.
“Communications between the agencies was interrupted due to disabled phone, internet and electrical services,” according to a joint release issued Saturday by the county mayor, the city of Gatlinburg, the National Park Service and the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency. “Due to this communication failure, the emergency notification was not delivered as planned.”
Officials didn’t explain why no one attempted an alternative means of communication such as radio or why the city at first downplayed the threat of the fire — or whether TEMA even would have issued such an alert if reached.
The fire began last week as a 1.5-acre blaze when first reported on the nearby Chimney Tops trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park but was fanned by hurricane-force winds Monday around 6 p.m.into a blaze that roared through Gatlinburg and has so far consumed almost 18,000 acres. The fire damaged or destroyed more than 1,400 homes and businesses.
Text-based emergency alerts are used by many cities for all kinds of emergencies, from capturing suspects to warning residents of evacuations.