GATLINBURG, Tenn. — A $37 million dollar lawsuit has been filed by victims of the Gatlinburg wildfires, by residents and property owners seeking restitution for their losses from the U.S. government.
The fire started in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and spread to Gatlinburg and other parts of Sevier County by high winds on the night of Nov. 28, 2016. Fourteen people were killed, more than 190 were injured and more than 2,500 buildings were destroyed.
The 88 plaintiffs listed in the new lawsuit claim they lost property the night of the fire and submitted claims to the Department of the Interior (DOI) for restitution. They said they received no response to those claims.
The suit was filed Aug. 1 against the U.S. government under the Federal Tort Claims Act for damages because of negligent acts by employees of the DOI and National Park Service (NPS).
The suit claims that Greg Salansky, fire management officer for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, discovered the Chimney Tops 2 fire but did nothing to suppress or stop it. The suit calls Salansky's plan to contain the fire a "debacle of historic proportions" and says the forecast for high winds on Nov. 28 should have served as a "call to action."
The suit lists a number of negligent acts by Salansky, including a failure to monitor the fire for five nights. It also claims that command structure breakdowns and failure to have a system that allowed inter-agency communication contributed to the tragedy. The suit also claims there was no contingency plan in place if the fire did escape its containment zone, and that there was no timely warning for local officials or residents of the danger.
"According to the team of experts hired by Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, the most critical failure of all during The Chimney Tops 2 Fire was the complete lack of early notice from the Park to local officials, residents and visitors in Sevier County, including Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge," according to the suit. "Because of this failure, firefighters had no advance warning of the fire until late-Monday morning, November 28, 2016, when a GFD captain called the Park to ask about the thick smoke pouring into the city. Salansky errantly advised the captain that everything was 'under control' and no help was needed. Meanwhile, The Chimney Tops 2 Fire was barreling toward Gatlinburg at speeds that eventually exceeded 2,000 acres per hour, more than half an acre per second."
The suit goes on to mention other federal and local government officials who it claims failed in their duties in managing or controlling the Chimney Tops 2 fire.
The suit seeks $37,350,108 in compensatory damages or the collective amount listed by each plaintiff.