East Tennessee firefighters, city leaders learn steps to prevent wildfires

Local News

A wildfire conference this week focused on lessons learned after the Gatlinburg wildfires and ways to keep families safe if it were to ever happen again.

The 2016 wildfires in Sevier County are etched in many people’s minds as a sad part of our history.

Wildfire experts say we generally see wildfire as a forestry problem, but it’s twofold. It’s a forestry and community problem and experts say if we work on solutions together we can reduce the risk.

“Well we’re seeing more extremes as far as hotter, drier weather and longer burning conditions through the seasons,” said wildfire forester Kelly Johnston.

City leaders and firefighters learned during this two-day conference what wildfire risks can be reduced throughout North America.

“Because we’re seeing increased development and changes in the way that fires are burning, we expect there will be more interaction with wildfire,” said Johnston.

One solution: city or county leaders can work to reduce the risk of wildfire with long-term development.

“We have to learn to live in an environment that will naturally have hazards. And so it’s not a question of ‘Can we just live somewhere else where there are no wildfires?’ It’s more accepting them as part of our landscape and where we can be safe with our development,” said Molly Mowery with Wildfire Planning International.

Wildfire experts referenced the Gatlinburg wildfires and issues they experienced with getting in and out of communities.

“Is the area that I’m planning prone to wildfire? Will the public be at risk? Is there a safety issue if wildfire was in this area? And what kind of policies can we make about land use decisions,” added Mowery.

Another solution includes education.

“We learned that Firewise is important. There are 25 Firewise communities across the state of Tennessee and 75-percent of those are in East Tennessee,” said Chief Tony Watson with the Pigeon Forge Fire Department.

Wildfire experts say it comes down to risk reduction and safety, better preparing our communities in case this happens.

“The people who lost their lives, that no life is in vain. That we try to do everything that we can to make our public and visitors safe,” said Chief Watson.

Those taking part in this wildfire conference on Friday will be taking a tour of the homes and businesses impacted by the 2016 wildfires. They will also tour the site where cabins burned in Black Bear Ridge Resort in March 2013.

The Pigeon Forge Fire Department says on May 4, they’re holding a Firewise Day. Firefighters say they’ll be visiting homes on Hickory Manor Road sharing ways to reduce the vulnerability of homes and landscapes to wildfire.

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