Chattanooga firefighters reflect on Gatlinburg one year later
It's been a year since the wildfires in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge killed 14 people, damaged or destroyed more than 2,000 homes and businesses and caused up to $2-billion worth of damage.
This time of year there's nothing that beats the fall colors in East Tennessee. However, this time last year things looked much different.
It’s been 365 days since the wildfires destroyed much of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. The fires killed 14 people, damaged or destroyed more than 2,000 homes and businesses and caused up to $2-billion worth of damage.
Firefighters with the Chattanooga Fire Department say they remember that day clearly. It was the Monday after Thanksgiving when they got the call from the state's mutual aid coordinator asking for help.
Wildfires raged through 17,000 acres and forced mandatory evacuations. The destruction grew quickly, requiring more manpower.
"Please send a strike team, which is five engine companies from different fire departments, and a chief officer from Chattanooga to be the strike team leader," explained Daniel Hague, Assistant of Chief Special Operations.
Hague remembers getting the call one year ago on this day. He coordinated the 49 firefighters from our area who answered the call to serve. Fire Marshal Chris Willmore was one of the first to respond.
"We were literally rushing into an area that they were telling everyone to get out of,” Fire Marshal Willmore said. "You could stand on a hilltop and you saw fires on all three sides so all you basically have is the way we came in and was the only safe exit."
It was their job to respond to structure fires and medical calls while other crews battled the wildfires.
Last month, CFD was recognized along with the other first responders who came to the rescue.
For Hague, it's not about the applause, rather the right thing to do.
"At some point, something like that could happen to the Chattanooga area, we may need assistance from other fire departments. It helps us provide assistance to them but also helps us to be available to receive help sometime later,” Hague said.
A surreal experience, that’s how Willmore describes it. Not something he could prepare for, but even more difficult for him to leave behind.
"I still like to visit the mountains and see that area and now it's just something that's a memory that I don't anticipate leaving anytime soon,” Willmore said.
The following fire agencies from the Channel 3 viewing area were deployed through the Tri-State Mutual Aid Association:
- Tri-Community Volunteer Fire Department
- Signal Mountain Fire Department
- Dallas Bay Volunteer Fire Department
- East Ridge Fire Department
- Sequoyah Volunteer Fire Department
- Soddy Daisy Fire Department
- Walden's Ridge Emergency Services
- Chattanooga Fire Department
- Bradley County Fire Rescue
- Englewood Fire Department
- Meigs County Volunteer Fire Department
- Athens Fire Department
- Cleveland Fire Department
- Decatur Fire Department
- Dunlap Volunteer Fire Department
- Chattanooga Fire Department