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Wildfire Damage Estimate Tops $500M

Thursday, December 15, 2016

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Historic Tennessee wildfires were responsible for killing 14 people and damaging more than 2,400 structures in and around the city of Gatlinburg, officials announced in a press conference Tuesday (Dec. 13).

Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters told reporters that the first cost estimate of damages sits at $500 million.

That doesn’t include the more than $7 million it cost to battle the wildfires, known as the Chimney Tops No. 2 and Cobbly Nob wildfire, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported.

Resisting Evacuation, Arrests

As questions surround the handling of the fires and emergency response, officials said an outside review will be conducted.

Authorities noted troubles encountered in trying to evacuate the 14,000 tourists and residents in the city of Gatlinburg when the fires quickly spread around town in high winds. They said power and cell tower outages hampered efforts.

Gatlinburg Fire Chief Greg Miller said that some residents resisted evacuation as his crew went door to door.

Two teenage boys, ages 15 and 17, have been arrested on charges of aggravated arson in connection with the Nov. 23 Chimney Tops trail fire that reportedly barreled through the forest reaching the city four days later carried by strong winds and extreme drought, reports said.

Hundreds of firefighters and rains were able to stop the fires, but not before they engulfed more than 17,000 acres at the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

‘Apocalyptic Wasteland’

Meanwhile, residents and building owners have been permitted back in the city, to begin cleanup and rebuild the resort town.

The scorched scene has been described as “an apocalyptic wasteland.” However, the city is welcoming visitors.

Codes Questioned

The tremendous structural loss has caused some to question whether new or improved building codes might have helped.

The choice of fire-resistant building materials, distance from trees and accessibility to firefighters can increase survival of buildings and occupants, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported, citing research.

However, Sevier County Commissioners have told reporters they doubted building codes would have mitigated loss, describing the events as unprecedented.

“This is a tragedy of epic proportions,” Commissioner Gary Cole said. “As far as I’m concerned, this was a once-in-a-lifetime event that I honestly think wouldn’t ever be replicated in my lifetime.”

The U.S. Forest Service has a Firewise program with steps that cut the risk to structures, but participation is voluntary, reports note.

   

Tagged categories: Building codes; Building owners; Fatalities; Fire; Health and safety; Hotels

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