SEVIER COUNTY, TN - Pete and Joy Jucker lost everything in the Sevier County wildfires. They escaped with only their lives.
"It was pretty much evacuating through the fire going down ski mountain road," said Pete Jucker.
He was nearly trapped at his work in Ober Gatlinburg the night of the fires. Joy didn't evacuate their home until a friend called her to tell her that the fires had spread.
"I didn't leave the house until the house was being surrounded by flames," Joy Jucker said. "We left in the nick of time, driving through flames on the road."
The city of Gatlinburg and Sevier County are now upgrading and replacing their emergency alert system in response to the November wildfires.
A new expanded and upgraded emergency alert system costing $715,000 will allow officials to trigger alerts and warnings locally in future emergencies.
Five new alarms have already been installed in downtown Gatlinburg and have been operational since April.
Nine additional alarms will be installed around the county, including around Chalet Village that was hard-hit by the wildfires.
Phase two of the installation process will take place over the next three months.
"It’s not going to protect us, it’s going to let us know when something is happening," said Pete Jucker. "If it does happen again, a better warning system that is activated on time is definitely going to be a good thing."
On November 28th around 8:30 in the evening, officials lost internet and phone lines at the Gatlinburg command center.
That left them unable to have state officials trigger emergency broadcast alerts or issue phone notifications.
"If something like that happened where we lost communication," said John Mathews, Sevier County Emergency Management Director. "We would not have to rely on someone outside the county to do that for us, or in Nashville, as we did that night on November 28."
The Juckers have moved in to a new home and are making sure to take the proper precautions to make it protect it from fire.
They've built a large wall to separate the building from the mountainside and are working to remove all material that could fuel a fire from their yard.
"When we bought it, nobody really thought about being fire wise in this area," said Pete as he walked around his backyard. "I think the best thing we all can do, all of us that live in this area, is to become fire wise."
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