Holly Kays photo
Gatlinburg Fire Aftermath
Michael Luciano and Anthony Fulton found the fire while riding their ATVS just a few hundred yards from their home in Gatlinburg, Tenn.
It was racing toward a neighbor’s cabin. There had been no warning. And now, there was no time.
They had 90 seconds. Luciano took his father’s ashes and Red, the family Doberman.
They jumped in the truck and floored it down Ski Hill Road as the fire engulfed Chalet Village.
Downed power lines and trees forced them to stop. The only option was to turn around.
“That ended up being where hell started,” Luciano said. “It did not end until we got to the very bottom.”
Luciano and Fulton survived the Chimney Tops 2 fire.
Others did not.
Fourteen people died.
The fire destroyed 1,600 structures after it escaped Great Smoky Mountains National Park and scorched a path through Gatlinburg, leaving a war zone of destruction in its wake. The property damage was more than half a billion dollars.
Two juveniles are charged with arson.
All told, fires in East Tennessee and Western North Carolina last fall, fueled by extreme drought and high winds, burned nearly 90,000 acres. It was the worst fall fire season many had ever seen.
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory likened it to California wildfires. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam called the destruction tragic.
The total economic impact is hard to figure. Beyond destroyed property, businesses that depend on fall tourism took a big hit as smoke and closed roads and trails kept visitors at home.
The total damage to the environment won’t be known for a long time.
Inspecting miles and miles of backcountry trails in the wintertime is no easy task. Assessments of wildlife and plants are continuing.
Fourteen trails remain closed in the park.
Some of the harder-hit trails—Chimney Tops, Bull Head and Sugarland Mountain—could be closed for quite some time.
Luciano and Fulton made it out of hell that day and into Pigeon Forge.
They stopped at a drugstore. Luciano called his mom.
“She was teared-up,” he says. “She said she prayed for God to put a blanket over the house and over the vehicle. A wet blanket.”
— From a story by Holly Kays in The Smoky Mountain News and reports in the Knoxville News-Sentinel and the Asheville Citizen-Times.
You can help
There are plenty of ways those who love the mountains can get involved.
- Share: Use the iNaturalist smart phone application to record and share observations of plant and animal life with scientists in the Smokies.
- Donate: The Gatlinburg Relief Fund and The My People Fund are helping families. Donate at smartbank.com or dollywoodfoundation.org.
- Visit: Plan a spring trip to the mountains. Businesses were hard hit by the fires, whether through a slow fall season or loss of property. They need your support now more than ever. Call ahead to find out which trails are open in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.