A handful of people who lost their homes during the wildfires in Sevier County voiced their concerns to the Sevier County Commission during the meeting Monday.
"We are suffering. We are suffering. We need our voices heard," said Chris Dunaway, who lost his home during the fires.
Dunaway asked the commission about an emergency evacuation plan and about the current gag order in place to prevent information regarding the fire to be released to the public.
Sevier County Larry Waters also opened up the public comment to Jerry Grubb, a former National Park Service ranger of 30 years, who has expertise in firefighting efforts.
Grubb criticized Great Smoky Mountain National Park Service authorities by telling the crowd the devastating fires were a direct result of failed management.
"No one should have been trapped, no one should have been killed, no one injured, as a result of the fire. Had the community been notified by the park service as the directions indicate, they would not have been killed. They, the park service, were the ones to ensure the people were notified of the imminent wildfire out of control and to advise everyone to evacuate from the path of the fire, they did absolutely nothing," Grubb told WBIR 10News.
Park officials have said the fire was small, slow-moving and posed no serious threat until conditions changed right before the Gatlinburg disaster.
Grubb argued the park service should have put out the initial Chimney Tops 2 Fire immediately given the drought conditions.
"Whatever it takes under the drought conditions, they are supposed to put that fire out at least attempt to put it out, they went home and went to bed. That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard of in my life," Grubb said.
Other people in the crowd like Ricki Landers said there isn't one person to blame for the devastation.
"I believe that there really is no one person who you can lay blame on but i do believe there could have been a lot better evacuation procedures in place," Landers said.
Among other things, Landers wants authorities to look at installing fire hydrants along the spur. She believes that would prevent further fire issues in Gatlinburg.
10News reached out to National Park Service officials Monday night for a comment on Grubb's claims. They said it was too late for them to respond appropriately.
In January, GSMNP Superintendent Cassius Cash told 10News the containment approach they took toward the fire would normally have worked, but strong winds building Sunday into Monday changed conditions drastically.
"Looking at how this fire progressed - at the rate, the winds - I think if we would've had 1,000 fire fighters up there, we couldn't have stopped what was happening on that day, on the 28th, just because of the erratic winds, high winds," Cash said. "It was skipping along the top of ridges, going towards Gatlinburg."
A fire review team from the National Park Service is analyzing how officials handled the fire response. The team is expected to release a report on their findings this spring.
The next Sevier County Commission meeting is set for April 24 at 6 p.m. at the Sevier County Courthouse.
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