Just over two months after a fire that started in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park spread into Gatlinburg and parts of Sevier County, fire experts from around the country are gathering to determine what happened, and how we can learn from it.

INVESTIGATIONAfter deadly wildfires, officials address evacuation timing, communication failures

The Chimney Tops fire started on November 23, burning in remote areas of the park, before strong winds spread it rapidly on the night of November 28. Thousands of people rushed to evacuate as the flames engulfed homes and businesses. Fourteen people were killed.

The National Park Service asked for the review, which will look at the facts leading up to the fire, the response, and make recommendations to reduce the chances of a similar incident in the future.

“The team will conduct a thorough review of the actions and response to this fire, which will include compliance with policy and application of professional wildland firefighting practices. Ultimately the purpose of the review is to identify lessons learned from this incident for use by any wildland firefighting agency,” said Bill Kaage, the division chief for the  National Park Service (NPS) Division of Fire and Aviation in Boise, Idaho.

The work of the review team is expected to take two weeks, then they will have 45 days to complete their report and submit it. After it is reviewd by Chief Kaage, it will be made public.

Joe Stutler, a senior advisor for Deschutes County, Oregon, will lead the team. He has extensive experience in wildland fire at the federal level as well as in local government and the private sector. 

Other team members include: 

  • Fire Behavior Specialist: William Grauel, Bureau of Indian Affairs – National Fire Ecologist, Boise, ID
  • Municipal Fire Department Representative: Jimmy Isaacs, Boone Fire Department – Chief, Boone, NC
  • Fire Operations/Risk Management Specialist: Shane Greer, U.S. Forest Service – Assistant Fire Director-Risk Management, Region 2, Golden, CO
  • NPS Fire Management Officer: Mike Lewelling, Rocky Mountain National Park – Fire Management Officer, Estes Park, CO
  • Fire Operations/Risk Management Specialist/Writer/Editor: Miranda Stuart, NPS Branch of Wildland Fire – Fire Management Specialist, Crawfordville, FL
  • NPS Management Liaison: Tim Reid, National Park Service – Superintendent, Devils Tower National Monument, WY