Officials say debris removal in Sevier County is now about half complete after wildfires scorched thousands of acres in November.
Since the fires, crews have dumped 40,000 tons of debris into the county's landfill -- the same amount of waste the county usually sees in an entire year, according to Sevier Solid Waste General Manager Tom Leonard.
In the first several weeks after the fires, an overload of debris forced the facility to open a separate temporary site just for wildfire remains. Since then, the pace of the clean-up has slowed from hundreds of truckloads per day to about a half-dozen per day.
"We believe that we're half done,” said Leonard. “That means there's another 40,000 tons or so to come in here."
Sevier County Emergency Management Director John Mathews confirmed Leonard’s estimation, noting the total of 1,327 residential buildings burned in the fires.
It's a mark of progress for the county as homeowners and business owners work to rebuild. It comes as the waste facility prepares for the next large round of debris removal.
"FEMA has a program that they're rolling out to help with some of the homeowners that maybe didn't have insurance or need help," Leonard said.
Thanks to a FEMA-sponsored debris removal program, Sevier County and the cities of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge will hire contractors to clean out debris for eligible private property owners. Those services will also include removing hazardous leaning or standing dead trees as well and demolishing hazardous walls and structures.
Bids for contractors will close Friday morning, according to Mathews.
Under the program, city and county officials expect to clean anywhere from 400 to 600 residential lots.
Sevier County residents have until the end of the year to clean out their debris. For Gatlinburg residents, the deadline is Sept. 31.
To apply to participate in the program, visit the Mountain Tough Recovery Team’s website.