The man who admitted to setting a brush fire in a last-ditch effort to be rescued after an ATV accident is thanking first responders for saving his life. Austin Miller said he thought he was going to die before he set the fire that led rescuers to him.
“I was very scared. I didn’t know if I was going to die and never come back,” said the 20-year-old from his hospital bed at UT Medical Center. “I had the best feeling when they, the fire department, showed up. I just want to recognize Sevier County Fire Department for everything they’ve done. Lifesavers.”
First responders say he crashed nearly three miles from the closest road, near Waldens Creek Road and McMahan Sawmill Road in Sevier County. His injuries prevented him from contacting anyone so he started the fire after days alone in the woods.
“My survival experiences kicked in,” said Miller.
Miller said he set the fire with a strike lighter and kept the flames away from him using his boot. He is now recovering from burns, broken ribs, and injuries to his ankle and hip.
“My ankle was swelling. I couldn’t hardly breathe because I cracked some ribs,” said Miller. “They put pins in it because I about went out.”
The Sevier County Sheriff’s Office said the ATV found with Miller had been reported stolen. The investigation is ongoing and charges are pending.
Speaking from his hospital bed, Miller told 10News he came across the ATV with the key.
Miller said he crashed the ATV multiple times before he was unable to move any further.
“It felt like a shark bite or like someone hit me with a tire iron,” Miller said, referring to his injuries.
Firefighters controlled the small, rural fire on Bluff Mountain in Sevier County Monday evening into Tuesday morning and said there was no threat to the community.
While it was burning, no structures were threatened, Waldens Creek Volunteer Fire Department Chief Tim Baker said.
It was a 15-20 acre brush fire and was in a very isolated area three miles off any road, officials with that fire department said.
Gerald Shelton, the technician of Sevier County for the forestry division, said that when they got on the scene they saw the ATV and heard someone scream.
Shelton said Miller had broken ribs, a crushed ankle, a hip injury, and said that he had nothing to eat or drink. Crews wrapped him in two shirts, and he was very cold but stable.
"Because it’s so rough of a terrain it was tough getting someone in there to get him out," Shelton said. "Then to carry him was awful.”
Brook Smith with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture echoed that sentiment, saying the nine-hour rescue was challenging.
"Anytime that you're operating in the darkness, in steep and rocky terrain like this, it makes it very difficult," Smith said. "And then you have incidents within the incident. So you have to take a lot of care and being meticulous about taking care of yourself and the other people you're working with."
Emergency workers brought him out of the woods via an ATV around 6:30 a.m. Tuesday and put him in an ambulance.