GATLINBURG (WATE) – Tennessee forestry crews spent Monday night scrambling to rescue people after a wildfire burned from the mountains into Gatlinburg, Wears Valley and parts of Pigeon Forge in Sevier County.
The tale of what happened that evening is captured in recordings of phone calls made by US Forestry Service personnel. The identity of the voices recorded is not available.
Staff first responded to a call of fire spreading around 4 p.m.
“We’ve arrived here. I’ll give you GPS points in a minute, but I’m going to get out here. There’s multiple structures,” a forestry worker said at 4:26 p.m.
It didn’t take long for multiple fires to spring up.
“Best I can tell, it’s six or seven acres right now,” said a forestry responder just half an hour later, at 4:56 p.m.
By 6 o’clock, the situation was quickly growing out of control.
“We got a line around this fire. There’s a house up on top of the mountain,” said a forestry worker. “We’re getting really hard winds up here and we can’t get to it with a dozer or a chainsaw and it’s blowing embers.”
The weather left forestry workers facing tough conditions.
“We’re seeing pretty bad debris here now,” a forestry responder said at 6:30 p.m. “The wind can just about blow you over.”
The night rolled on as forestry crews continued to battle the flames throughout Sevier County.
“Approximately 10 acres burning in brush and grass,” a forestry worker said at 7:55 p.m. “Spread potential is, of course, extreme.”
The unusually high winds fueled the fire.
“This wind is so bad that we’ve got fire everywhere,” a forestry worker said at 8:05 p.m. “We need all the water we can have down here near these houses.”
In the calls, it is clear that the weather made the fire nearly impossible to contain.
“I don’t know what we can do in here right now,” a forestry responder said at 8:15 p.m.
By 8:25 p.m., not even back up crews could reach some of the areas in desperate need.
“I have this 20 man crew and we’re trying to get to you, but the roads are blocked and I don’t even know if we can get to you,” a forestry worker said.
Crews worked into the night with the mountains still glowing.
“I don’t know how big it is here but we’re going to stay and take action,” a forestry worker said at 8:50 p.m.