November 29, 2016
If you were watching the mainstream media Tuesday morning, you were probably unaware, but multiple red states were burning.
While CNN and other liberal news organizations reported for hours on the latest criticism of President-elect Donald Trump, a major wildfire raged out-of-control throughout the South, burning down a resort in Tennessee.
As these U.S. citizens scrambled for information from news sources, they were met with shocking indifference — and it may have cost one family everything.
Michael Reed is a resident of Gatlinburg, Tennessee whose home was one of the over 100 buildings lost to the wildfire Tuesday, and realized too late that his wife and daughters hadn’t been evacuated.
“After hearing about the fires, Reed and his son tried to drive to Gatlinburg. However, the two got stuck in traffic and were not able to turn around,” local station WBAC reported. “The last time he heard from them, he told his wife to call 911 for help after she said she saw flames across the street from the home. Michael and his son were able to get into Gatlinburg to visit shelters, but have not found them.”
“We are just hoping for a miracle,” Reed told the station, adding that there were some hopeful signs at his ruined home that the family had escaped.
During the blaze, social media users launched to a firestorm of their own, attacking the major news networks for their shamefully absent coverage.
— Julie Haney (@joinjules) November 29, 2016
— Matt Dougan (@Americooligan) November 29, 2016
— monica bell (@nighthawkonwing) November 29, 2016
— Ryan Koch (@Iamryankoch) November 29, 2016
My thoughts & prayers are with everyone effected by the #Gatlinburg fires. Scary stuff. Not much media coverage.Why? Too busy bashing Trump?
— Jeremy Nolt (@RealJeremyNolt) November 29, 2016
— The Horn editorial team
Wildfire death toll rises to 7
GATLINBURG — Seven people are now confirmed dead in the wildfires that ravaged Sevier County this week, authorities said Wednesday.
Early assessments indicate wildfire has damaged or destroyed more than 700 homes and businesses across the county this week, county Mayor Larry Waters said at an afternoon news conference. Fire officials said that number includes about 300 buildings inside the Gatlinburg city limits.
The blaze erupted as flames whipped by high-speed winds raged through town Monday night into Tuesday morning and displaced more than 14,000 residents in an inferno witnesses called unlike any in the past century. It’s the latest destruction by wildfires that officials estimate have consumed more than 15,000 acres in the Great Smoky Mountains.
A firefighter was hurt fighting the blaze, Waters said. His injuries appeared to be minor. The search continues for others who might have been killed or injured but not discovered due to blocked roads and power outages.
At least three people trapped due to fire damage had been rescued by Wednesday afternoon.
Authorities have not given the identities of those killed. Three bodies were found in North Chalet Village, and a fourth was found in a burned-out hotel off U.S. Highway 321.
Three more had been found by Wednesday afternoon — all three in a home on Campbell Lead Road, authorities said.
“We are trying to get into every area,” Waters said. “Those efforts will continue today.”
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has set up a hotline at 800-TBI-FIND to help with the search for missing people.
Eight new fires erupted Tuesday into Wednesday, Gatlinburg Fire Chief Greg Miller said. Most were brush fires, but one was a vacant home that caught fire.
The heavy rains that followed the fires have created “new challenges” as firefighters continue to check hot spots and assess damages.
“There’s no longer that foliage holding everything together, so we’re experiencing small rockslides and mudslides as we have to go back into areas we previously thought were accessible,” the chief said.
The blaze apparently began when embers from a wildfire on nearby Chimney Tops Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park wafted into the Twin Creeks and Mynatt Park areas of town Monday night as the already-heavy winds doubled in speed, the fire chief said. The resulting flames swept through Gatlinburg in less than a quarter-hour, fanned by winds at speeds that approached 90 mph.
The cause of the Chimney Tops fire remains under investigation, but the wildfire “appears to be human-caused,” park Superintendent Cassius Cash said.
At least 53 people have been treated at LeConte Medical Center for fire-related injuries, authorities said. Three suffered burns serious enough for treatment at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.
Roads into Gatlinburg remained closed Wednesday, and authorities offered no indication of when any residents might be able to return home.
More than 14,000 people have been forced to leave Gatlinburg alone, and about 500 from Pigeon Forge, officials estimated. More than 2,000 people had been taken to emergency shelters.
Ken Lewis, manager of Red Cross shelter at Rocky Top Sports World in Gatlinburg, said Wednesday morning that there were 200 people at the shelter, down from a peak of 700 on Tuesday.
Lewis said a lot of evacuees have been able to connect with friends and family and find a place to stay.
Inside the shelter there are stacks of food, bottled water, personal hygiene items and diapers. Local restaurants have donated hot prepared food as well.
The shelter also has an abundance of pet food and pet supplies.
“We had trucks and supplies coming in all day long,” Lewis said.
He said right now it’s to the point that the shelter has too much and they’re trying to channel some of the items back into the community.
“If people want to help, we’ve got everything we need right now,” Lewis said.
Michelle Hankes, spokeswoman for the Knoxville chapter of the American Red Cross, said the agency has received more donations of food, clothes and other necessities at this point than volunteers and staff can handle.
“We’re going to ask everyone to take a pause,” she said. “We need to make sure we can use these resources as they’re intended.”
News of the fires has brought condolences and offers of support pouring into East Tennessee from around the country, including from President-Elect Donald Trump and former Vice President Al Gore, a onetime Tennessee senator.