Dozens of fire departments and emergency crews from all over East Tennessee have been part of the efforts to fight the wildfire in Sevier County and to rescue people who were trapped.
Firefighters from Oak Ridge were among those who answered the first call for help on Monday, and took part in a dramatic rescue of a dozen people staying in the rental cabins behind Dollywood.
The Oak Ridge crew, along with five Maryville firefighters, were dispatched around 11 p.m. to save a man who was trapped in a cabin on Mitchell Road with fire all around him.
As the firefighters tried to get to the man, the road was blocked by trees and live power lines. Once power crews were able to cut the power to the area, the firefighters were able to cut through the trees and continue their attempts to get to the caller.
Oak Ridge Fire Chief Darryl Kerley had a cell phone number for the man, and when he called, a woman answered the phone.
“She told me they were all about to die,” Chief Kerley said. “I asked who was with her and she told me there were a total of 12 people sitting in their cars with fire all around. I told her we were on the way to rescue them. A few moments later, she said she could see our flashlights through the smoke.”
There were three cars in the middle of the road with fire closing in on both sides. They told firefighters they were too afraid to leave.
The firefighters reassured them, saying they had to come with them immediately to get to safety. The crew helped all 12 people, as well as four dogs, get to a trolley that transported them to the Pigeon Forge shelter.
“In my 39 years of service, this has been the worst disaster I have seen in East Tennessee,” Chief Kerley said. “Every direction we looked, there were fires burning on the mountainside. We saw cabins explode into fire on the ridge tops and there was nothing we could do. It was a totally helpless feeling.”
Oak Ridge crews are still helping out in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge with one fire engine and five employees who are rotating out in 12 hour shifts. Two of their battalion chiefs are also working in the Incident Command Center.
“We were saddened to learn of the dire situation facing our friends and neighbors in Sevier County, but thankful to be able to offer assistance when it was needed most,” Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson said. “Our fire department’s personnel, equipment and expertise helped save lives. We will continue to be there for our sister cities of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge long after these fires are extinguished.”
“There were agencies from all over East Tennessee supporting this operation,” Chief Kerley added, “and our City is honored to be one of many on the ground in Sevier County helping wherever we can.”