PIGEON FORGE - The people affected by the massive wildfire that ripped through Sevier County in November 2016 may feel like they’ve seen it all. Seven months later, they are still gaining new perspectives on the historic disaster.
On Wednesday, Sevier County officials released several previously unseen videos recorded by emergency crews on the front lines of the fire.
The material had been withheld from the public because agencies cited a so-called "gag order" in a pending criminal case against two juveniles previously charged with arson for starting the fire at the Chimney Tops trail in the Great Smoky Mountains.
In June, a judge issued an order clarifying the gag order only applied to attorneys and court officials involved in the case, not to outside agencies.
The state also dropped the criminal charges against the two juveniles last week. The U.S. Attorney's Office has said it has not made a decision whether to file federal charges.
Some of the most compelling footage was shot on a GoPro attached to Chris Altman of the Pigeon Forge Fire Department. It shows Altman and other crew members surrounded by fire in every direction as they tried to protect homes on Troy Drive in Pigeon Forge.
Troy Drive is a small road. It’s only a third of a mile long. The homes there took a big hit. When the smoke cleared, the main things that remained were concrete foundations, stone chimneys, and melted glass.
There is one fortunate exception. The cabin owned by Teresa and Jerry Newsom of Louisiana was spared. The new video of fire crews shows the cabin’s survival was due to more than luck.
“I think it was because of the fast response of the firefighting teams and us being the first house on that road. They were able to get started spraying around the cabin and on the cabin first,” said Jerry Newsom during an interview with 10News via Facetime. “I mean, it’s been a life-changing event. Everything that was on that road is now gone.”
The Newsom cabin was nearly another casualty of the wildfire. The fire began burning one of the rear load-bearing posts on the home before it was extinguished.
“I give all the credit to the good Lord first off, but for the firefighters and all the hard work they put in to salvage the few homes that they could. It is just truly a blessing that it didn’t get burned.”
WBIR 10News attempted to speak with the firefighter who shot the video for additional insight into what the images reveal about what crews endured. Requests for interviews go through the city manager of Pigeon Forge, who did not permit the interview Thursday. Pigeon Forge Fire Department chief Tony Watson said the video mostly speaks for itself.
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