GATLINBURG, Tenn. — An ongoing lawsuit against the National Park Service over its handling of the 2016 Gatlinburg Wildfire is on hold as a federal judge considers a motion to dismiss the suit.
Nearly five years after the devastating fires, in which 14 people died, there is still no resolution in the case. Judge Ronnie Greer had set a trial date in 2023.
On Sept. 8, he issued an order staying the cause as he considers the federal government's request to dismiss the lawsuit on mostly technical grounds.
"Sometimes the wheels of justice turn very slowly and there’s always the possibility of appeal," attorney Sid Gilreath, who initially filed the lawsuit, said. "We're hoping it'll get started up again soon."
The suit alleges the National Park Service did not do enough to warn neighbors in the communities around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park about the growing flames.
"They didn’t warn the citizens of Gatlinburg about the proximity of the fire to the city and the magnitude of it until Monday the 28th. And it was too late," Gilreath said.
A National Park spokesperson declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.
Rangers first spotted the fire near the Chimney Tops trail days before it ravaged neighborhoods around downtown Gatlinburg. It burned more than 17,000 acres of the park before high winds caused it to expand rapidly.
Joel Poole, one of the more than 400 plaintiffs in the case, lost his home in the fire. He wants to see progress in the case.
"Hopefully we see some resolution in the next six months to a year," he said.
But with the case on hold, the possibility of closure could still be years away.