GATLINBURG, Tenn. — On November 28, 2016, wildfires started to spread into populated areas across Sevier County. Those fires changed thousands of lives and left a mark on East Tennessee.
Winds gusting more than 60 miles per hour fanned the flames and pushed the wildfires into Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and other surrounding areas. Around 14,000 people had to evacuate quickly and with little warning. After the wildfires, Sevier County leaders made several improvements designed to prevent communication struggles in case of future wildfires.
For weeks after the first wave of wildfires, smaller fires continued popping up across the area. In total, more than 17,000 acres of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park burned and around 2,400 buildings were damaged or destroyed.
A lawsuit over the wildfires was dismissed, and a federal judge denied a motion made by victims of the wildfires. A judge said that the individual victims of the fire failed to present their claim of negligent failure-to-warn, in accordance with the Federal Tort Claims Act.
However, cases made by insurance companies against the federal government were not dismissed and were allowed to move forward.
Six years after the wildfires, tourism in the area has also reached new heights. City officials said millions of people have visited Gatlinburg since the 2016 wildfires, and several attractions in the area recorded record numbers of tourists.
New growth and rebuilt structures have filled many of the areas that were scarred by the wildfires. The Gatlinburg City Commission also approved a contract with Whaley Construction in September 2022 for a memorial, dedicated to the people who died in the 2016 wildfire.