17 August 2017

Austin Bohanan's mother speaks out on Facebook, canines join search for Blount County teen missing six days in the Great Smoky Mountains

Cynthia Clark/Smoky Mountain Post

Austin Bohanan's mother said on social media that if she could change things, she would have reported her son missing right away instead of waiting two days. Bohanan has been missing six days in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Christa Dyer, Bohanan's birth mother, has reached out on social media asking for prayers from the public. When asked yesterday for details about her son's disappearance, she commented, "He left with my husband Friday to go hiking on Chehowee [sic] Lake and they got separated. He's always right behind and then he wasn't. We have been all over that place all weekend looking for him ..."
Austin Bohanan, pictured in a photo
shared on Facebook by a family member.
18-year-old Austin Bohanan,
missing since Friday in the Smokies.

She added in later comments, "And he did not leave him. He got lost. My husband lost his glasses and can't see an inch in front of his face and he thought he was behind him ..."

Quoting from her Facebook page, Dyer went on to comment, "We were looking for him all weekend long. My husband knows that mountains [sic] very very well and I waited for him to come out the last time and I contacted the authorities for some more help because we knew we needed it at that point."

When pressed about why they waited two days to contact authorities, Dyer responded, "Because we thought he would come out. Me and my husband were in there the whole weekend looking for him and my husband reassured me that he would come out somewhere cuz [sic] Austin is a smart boy so he reassured me he would come out if I could do that if I could change things I sure as hell would I would have them in their [sic] right away."

Two search and rescue dog teams, provided by the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, joined 30 trained emergency responders in the search for the missing Blount County teenager, who was reportedly last seen hiking off-trail with his stepfather in the remote southwest corner of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on Friday evening, Aug. 11. Family members reported him missing to the park’s Emergency Communication Center Sunday evening at about 8 p.m.

Family members and friends are circulating
these missing person posters for Austin Bohanan.
The National Park Service said in a news release today that the ground search teams were navigating dense vegetation and difficult terrain in the remote southwest corner of the park near Chilhowee Lake. Search teams are primarily conducting linear searches of drainages and ridges looking for any evidence of human travel in the rugged wilderness area, the release said.

Bohanan's stepmother, Brooke Bohanan, said last night, "There are some things that the park can not tell us due to the investigation. So we do not have a whole lot of details." She also noted that the "emotional pain that is so high right now" has kept them from talking to Austin's birth mother and stepfather about their missing son.

Austin's friends and family members are circulating missing person posters in hopes of helping locate him.

Bohanan is a white male between 5’2”-5’5” feet tall, weighs between 120-150 pounds and has brown hair and blue eyes. He was last seen wearing blue jeans, unknown color t-shirt, and blue Nike baseball cap.

If anyone has seen Bohanan since Friday evening please call the park at (865) 436-1230.

Search and Rescue team members navigate dense vegetation in the
search for Austin Bohanan, missing since Friday, Aug. 11. (National Park Service)

14 August 2017

New details in search for Blount County teen still missing in Smokies, Park officials request canine search teams from TEMA

Austin Bohanan was last seen wearing a blue
Nike baseball cap, unknown color t-shirt & jeans.

UPDATE Aug. 16: The search continues for missing Blount County teen Austin Bohanan, who was reported missing in the Great Smoky Mountains Park officials on Sunday by family members, although he has actually been missing since Friday.

Bohanan was reportedly last seen hiking off-trail in the remote southwest corner of the park on the evening of Friday, Aug. 11. Family members reported him missing at approximately 8:00 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 13 to the park’s Emergency Communication Center.

On social media, Bohanan's birth mother Christa Dyer posted to family and friends, saying Bohanan had gone missing while hiking with her husband on Friday. "He left with my husband Friday to go hiking on Chehowee [sic] Lake and they got separated. He's always right behind and then he wasn't. We have been all over that place all weekend looking for him ..." Dyer wrote.

Search and Rescue at morning briefing.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials reported that late yesterday afternoon, Tennessee Highway Patrol utilized a Bell Jet Ranger Helicopter to conduct visual search of the area with no significant findings.

This morning five search teams consisting of rangers from the park’s Search and Rescue team, officers with Tennessee Wildlife Resource Authority and individuals with the Backcountry Unit Search and Rescue team (BUSAR) have a total of 24 individuals searching the area.

Park officials have also requested the assistance of two canine search teams through Tennessee Emergency Management Agency to assist with search efforts.

At this time, search operations remain limited to a select number of trained searchers to enable a systematic, thorough search of the area. By limiting the number of searchers in the area, rangers have the best chance to find Bohanan quickly. Dog teams and trackers can be hampered by additional people in the area when searchers are looking for signs of hiker travel.

Bohanan is a white male between 5’2”-5’5” feet tall, weighs between 120-150 pounds and has brown hair and blue eyes. He was last seen wearing blue jeans, unknown color t-shirt, and blue Nike baseball cap. If anyone has seen Bohanan since Friday evening please call the park at (865) 436-1230.

Members of the National Park Service, TWRA and
BUSAR team have their morning briefing
regarding the search for Austin Bohanan.
# # #

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Rangers are searching for a Blount County teen believed to be lost in the southwest area of the park. Eighteen-year old, Austin Bohanan was reported missing at approximately 6:30 p.m. on Sunday, August 13.

Rangers initiated a ground search on Monday morning, August 14, with 13 members of the Park Search and Rescue Team.

The search is focused in the southwest area of the park near Highway 129.

No additional details are available at this time.

21 July 2017

Clingmans Dome Road to Close Aug. 19-21 for Solar Eclipse Viewing

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials are reminding visitors that Clingmans Dome Road will be closed to all access beginning at 11:00 p.m. on Saturday, August 19 through the evening of Monday, August 21 following the event. No overnight parking will be allowed at Clingmans Dome Parking Area or pull-offs, parking areas, and trailheads along the road during this time period. The road will be closed to all motorists, pedestrians, and bicyclists.

During the closure, all trails, campsites and shelters in the backcountry will remain open, but backpackers should carefully consider the road closure when planning their itineraries. All vehicles must be clear of Clingmans Dome Road by 11:00 p.m. Saturday, August 19. An interactive map is available on the park website at http://go.nps.gov/GRSM_ECLIPSE where backcountry users can view which backcountry campsites are within the path of totality.

Clingmans Dome Road is the only park road closed for the solar eclipse event, but park visitors should be prepared for high volume traffic across all park roads on Monday, August 21. Vehicles cannot stop in the roadway and must be parked in designated parking areas. If roads become congested or cause a safety concern, rangers may temporarily close them to additional inbound traffic until after the eclipse to reduce traffic congestion and allow access for emergency response. Visitors should expect temporary road closures throughout the day.

While the western half of the park lies within the path of totality, there are limited roads and parking areas available for travel. The risk of traffic jams and road closures is likely to increase throughout the morning of August 21. Managers suggest that visitors plan ahead to find the right eclipse experience for their situation. Many communities outside of the national park are hosting special events to observe and celebrate the celestial phenomena and those locales may be a great alternative for locals or travelers not wanting to risk traffic congestion in the park. Visit the park website for more information at www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/2017-solar-eclipse.htm.

16 July 2017

Nashville Man Dies of Heart Attack on Alum Cave Trail Hike after Night at LeConte Lodge

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Rangers responded to a report of man in cardiac distress on Alum Cave Trail at approximately 9:59 a.m. on Saturday, July 15. Phillip Basset Davenport, age 47, from Nashville, TN was hiking down the Alum Cave Trail from Mt. Le Conte with a group of friends after staying the previous night at LeConte Lodge.

He suddenly passed out 3 miles from the trailhead and bystanders administered CPR while park medics responded. Davenport passed away at approximately 11:14 a.m.

Davenport was carried off the trail by Park Rangers and then transported by the Gatlinburg Fire Department to LeConte Medical Center.

07 January 2017

Missing hikers found uninjured but cold and hungry in Pisgah National Forest's Shining Rock Wilderness

Two men missing since Thursday in the Shining Rock Wilderness in the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina have been found. A news release Saturday evening stated the men were airlifted and were being transported to an area hospital. Helicopters belonging to The North Carolina State Highway Patrol, Mountain Area Medical Airlift and NCHART (North Carolina Helicopter and Aquatic Rescue Team), aided in locating and extracting the hikers. No additional information on their condition is expected this evening.

County officials confirmed that the hikers were spotted by a helicopter brought in to aid the search and the helicopter crew was able to let the hikers know they had been spotted.

Big East Fork Trailhead command center. (Photo The Mountaineer)
The two men, one identified as 23-year-old David Crockett of Charlotte, NC, started a day-hike around noon on Thursday into the Shining Rock Wilderness in the Pisgah National Forest near the Big East Fork Trailhead. They were able to contact authorities in a 911 call early Saturday morning, but still had no idea where they were. Crockett's mother, Denise Crockett, confirmed to family friends that her son and his hiking partner, who hasn't been identified, were found, according to Haywood County's The Mountaineer newspaper.

Crockett is a student at UNC-Charlotte, studying accounting and finance. His mother and two siblings live in Albemarle. He is also a highly esteemed cheerleading coach of the Rockstar cheerleading squad from Gastonia, whose members were understandably very worried for his well-being, according to The Mountaineer. Family friend Kindra Rabon said the men were not injured from the ordeal but were understandably cold and hungry when rescued.

Crockett's mother said David is relatively new to hiking, having taken up the hobby just a few months ago. He has only been on a few small day hikes prior to this, she said.

“I’m sure he wasn’t really prepared for the situation he found himself in,” she said.

David Crockett, at left in orange, with the Rockstars,
the cheerleading squad he coaches in Gastonia.
(Photo courtesy Kendall Hunt to The Mountaineer)
A large rescue effort was mobilized to find the missing hikers. The men called authorities from a non-traceable cell phone on Friday morning and indicated they were off-trail and lost. Neither man was injured and they said they were staying in place, awaiting rescue, according to WLOS-News 13 in Western North Carolina.

The Mountaineer reported that the men again contacted authorities shortly after daybreak on Saturday, letting them know their fire was still going and they had found shelter. Teams were deployed on Saturday to the highest points on the ridge with high-powered binoculars capable of seeing even the faintest smoke signal.

Haywood County EMS Coordinator Greg Shuping told The Mountaineer that yesterday — and late into last night — crews searched areas near the trail and the highest points along the ridges where there is the greatest possibility to gain a cell signal, but didn't have any luck.

The Mountaineer reported that Haywood County Public Information Officer Donna Stewart said the hikers had been out in the wilderness since Thursday afternoon. Search teams were dispatched Friday morning, Stewart said, and three search teams worked through the night. Rested teams, which are highly trained in mountain search techniques, began searching Saturday. Each team consists of four to six members. The search teams are associated with agencies in multiple counties, including the Haywood County Search and Rescue.

Search and rescue teams were called out to the Big East Fork trailhead on U.S. 276 around 10 a.m. Friday and were operating out of a base camp set up where the hikers' vehicle was found. The camp included two trailers and a tent.

The trail into the wilderness area is unblazed and extremely steep and rugged in places. Conditions are difficult even in summer months. During the winter, the trail often ices over and can become extremely treacherous.

Friday afternoon, Haywood County EMS Supervisor Ben Clausen told The Mountaineer that because the cell phone the hikers used to call 911 had such a low battery, communication had been spotty and brief and their location was unknown.

"They have no idea where they are," he said. "They have no compass, maps, GPS, nothing with them."

Starting Friday night, a special alpine rescue team joined the search. "They are mountain search and rescue teams that are actually trained in alpine type search and rescue situations," he said. "They’re specially equipped for cold weather snow search situations."

Temperatures dipped into the low teens Friday night when heavy snowfall impeded visibility as crews searched through the night. Temperatures are predicted to reach 0 degrees tonight.

As searchers combed the mountain Saturday, the wind speed was just 5 miles an hour, but the combination of wind and low temperatures created a penetrating cold. The conditions were far worse for the lost hikers than those searching for them as the teams of four that were methodically searching the target area had gear designed for just such circumstances.

-- All information obtained from The Mountaineer Newspaper in Haywood County, NC and WLOS News 13 in Western North Carolina. Read more about it on The Mountaineer's website.

27 December 2016

Missing airplane and three crash victims found in Great Smoky Mountains Tuesday, recovery of crash victims to begin Wednesday

A reconnaissance flight by the Tennessee Army National Guard located a missing single engine airplane in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at around 4:43 pm on Tuesday, Dec. 27. The plane was found on an unnamed ridge between Cole Creek and Bearpen Hollow Branch. Paramedics were hoisted down to the crash site and confirmed that there were no survivors. The identities of the victims have not been confirmed, however, the three occupants of the plane were previously reported to be David Starling, 41, his girlfriend Kim Smith, 42, and his son Hunter Starling, 8, all of Bradford County, Florida.

According to friends of the family, the three people on board a plane
reported missing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park were
David Starling, his 8-year-old son Hunter, and Kim Smith.
 (Photo: WBIR.com)
Ground teams searched the steep and heavily wooded area on foot Tuesday, but were unable to access some areas due to the rough terrain.

A single Blackhawk helicopter was able to fly late afternoon and spotted the wreckage along the last known flight path of the missing aircraft. Recovery efforts of the three victims will begin on Wednesday, Dec. 28.

The plane was in route to the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge Airport from Florida on Monday, Dec. 26 when the Cessna 182 went missing over the park at approximately 4:01 pm. Search efforts were centered around an area west-southwest of LeConte Lodge.

National Park Service officials told WBIR News that they had deployed 10 people in three crews to hike off-trail looking for the aircraft, but heavy rain and thick fog complicated search efforts and made conditions treacherous. The National Transportation Safety Board will be the lead in the investigation of the plane crash.

Tabitha Ritz Starling with son Hunter Starling.
She had asked for prayers in helping find her son,
who was with his father on the ill-fated airplane
that crashed in the Smokies. (ActionNewsJax)
Hunter Starling's mother, Tabitha Ritz Starling, had asked for prayers on Facebook when she learned the airplane hadn't arrived at its destination. "Please pray for my baby. He is missing and his dad and girlfriend also. Please pray..." she wrote. Kim Smith's son Garrett has been in Tennessee helping search for the missing plane, according to Action News Jacksonville.

Jenna Bourne of ActionNewsJax reported that David Starling's cousin said David was president of a timber company and enjoyed fishing with his son Hunter, who loves baseball and ice cream.

In a recent post on Kim Smith's Facebook page she wrote, "Beyond blessed to have this sweet, caring man in my life! He's all I want for Xmas and all I need for a lifetime because he absolutely completes me! I love you David Starling to the moon & back!"

The National Park Service worked closely with the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center, Civil Air Patrol, Federal Aviation Administration, and Tennessee Emergency Management Agency in this search effort.

(National Park Service and compiled reports)

07 December 2016

Two Tennessee juveniles charged with aggravated arson in Chimney Tops fire that spread to Gatlinburg, killing 14 and injuring more than 130

(From WBIR.com)

GATLINBURG - WBIR is reporting that authorities have charged two juveniles in connection with the fires that started last month in the Chimney Tops area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and swept through Sevier County, killing 14 and injuring more than 130.

The juveniles were charged with aggravated arson, but could face additional charges later. They are currently being held at the Sevier County Juvenile Detention Center. 

A judge will determine whether to grant the two bond and - if so - how much. They also could be tried as adults.

“Numerous hours have gone into conducting interviews and investigating this incident from every angle," said Mark Gwyn, director of the TBI, adding that local and state agencies “have been working tirelessly."

Officials said little about the identities of the juveniles other than they were not from Sevier County but were from Tennessee.

PREVIOUS: We are anticipating a 3 p.m. news conference in Sevier County that will provide new information about investigation into the wildfires that devastated that community last week.

According to a press release, speakers at the press conference will include Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) Director Mark Gwyn, 4th District Attorney General James Dunn, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park Chief Ranger Steve Kloster.

The press conference is set for 3 p.m. at the Sevier County Courthouse in Sevierville. You can watch it live on WBIR and WBIR.com.

The Chimney Tops 2 fire started on Nov. 23 in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and officials said it was "human-caused." No charges have been filed and no suspects have been named so far.

That fire spread rapidly, fueled by strong winds, on November 28, into developed areas of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. Fourteen people were killed as the fire spread and sparked new ones, dozens were injured, and 1,785 structures were destroyed, displacing thousands of people.

The Chimney Tops 2 fire is still smoldering in the park, burning 17,006 acres so far, but it is now 85% contained. A second fire, called the Cobby Nob fire which started the night of the fires in Gatlinburg, covers 803 acres and is 53 percent contained. Thanks to the rain, those fires have not increased in size in the past few days, but they are not completely out.

(© 2016 WBIR)

Kick off the New Year outdoors with a First Day Hike in one of America's State Parks in all 50 states

What better way to kick off the New Year than by getting a jump start burning off those extra holiday calories in the great outdoors? On New Year’s Day, America’s State Parks have all 50 states offering free, guided First Day Hike Programs. These hikes provide a means for individuals and families to welcome the coming year in the outdoors, exercising and connecting with nature.

Last year nearly 55,000 people rang in the New Year, collectively hiking over 133,000 miles throughout the country on the guided hikes. Numerous others hiked state park trails throughout the day.

Norris Dam State Park
The guided First Day Hikes are led by knowledgeable state park staff and volunteers.The distance and rigor vary from park to park, but all hikes aim to create a fun experience for the whole family. People are invited to savor the beauty of the state park’s natural resources with the comfort of an experienced guide so they may be inspired to take advantage of these local treasures throughout the year.

America’s State Parks have been entrusted to preserve a variety of magnificent places from California to Maine. Hikers can experience a plethora of outdoor recreation activities including mountain and hill climbing, walks along lakes and beaches, exploration of trails through great forests, wildlife expeditions, bird-watching and much more.
Fort Loudoun State Historic Area

No matter where you are in the United States, you can find your park here! You can click here to find a First Day Hike near you. There's a First Day Hike for everyone, from easy to difficult.

One Knoxville-area First Day Hike will be at Fort Loudoun State Historic Park. Get more information here. Hikers will meet at the Tellico Blockhouse at 1 pm. Or, try Norris Dam State Park's First Day Hike. You can ring in the New Year on Norris Lake by moonlight with the 12:01 am hike that starts at the Tea Room at the East end of the park. The hike will end with a huge fire in the Tea Room with refreshments. Get more information here

Grandfather Mountain Mile High Swinging Bridge
Grandfather Mountain State Park in North Carolina is hosting a moderate hike starting on Holloway Mountain Road. Get more information here.

America’s State Park programs are committed to promoting outdoor recreation in hopes to help address obesity, especially in children. Furthermore, exercise and outdoor activities rejuvenate the mind and body, promoting overall mental and physical health and wellness. Many believe that time spent in nature enhances creativity and lifts our moods!

Take advantage of the resources that America’s State Parks have to offer and get connected to our country’s shared resources by finding a First Day Hike near you. Let this mark the beginning of a healthy lifestyle for the whole family!

03 December 2016

New death toll raised to 14 in Gatlinburg wildfires, new victim identified as 81-year-old Elaine Brown; friend says one of the missing was found alive

Photo @GSunDarrenReese/Twitter

GATLINBURG - Elaine Brown, age 81, of 2703 Clabo Road, Sevierville, has been identified as the 14th victim of the Gatlinburg wildfires. She sustained a medical event causing a single-vehicle accident on Wears Valley Road while fleeing the fire, according to a joint news release from Sevier County, City of Gatlinburg, Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, and Great Smoky Mountain National Park officials.

Fourteen lives have been lost due to the swift-moving wildfires in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Gatlinburg and the number of fire-related injuries has been raised to 134. The Chimney Tops 2 fire was 38 percent contained on Sunday afternoon, Dec. 4.

One of those listed as missing, Louise Brooke, who lived at 316 Ski Mountain Road, has reportedly been found alive, according to her acquaintance Shirley Shawhan, who said the TBI told her Brooke had been located. Shawhan said, "She used to work at a motel in Gatlinburg that my family and I used to go to. We have kept in touch with her over the years. We had a picture of her we wanted to get to the TBI since none were available. When I called them yesterday (Friday), to see about e-mailing the pic, they told me she'd been located alive." This has not been independently confirmed at this time.

On Monday, Dec. 5, Gatlinburg city officials will continue a damage assessment of roadways, infrastructure, and public works as the city prepares to open for business later this week. Property owners, business owners, renters, and lease holders will continue to have daily access to properties to allow appropriate time for cleaning, smoke removal, and securing their properties. Daily access will now be allowed from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The curfew remains in effect from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.
• 1,684 structures have been damaged or destroyed by the fire.
• There are currently 23 crews, 46 engines, 6 helicopters, 5 dozers, 713 total personnel fighting the Chimney Top 2 Fire as a part of the Type 1 Federal Incident Management Team.
• The evacuated areas in Gatlinburg are open for access each day from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. through the check point at Gatlinburg City Hall via East Parkway (Hwy. 321) and Glades Road. This restriction shall remain in effect until the city reopens for the general public.
• The curfew remains in effect from 6:00 p.m. until 6:00 a.m. nightly.
• The Spur parkway is open only from Pigeon Forge to the Gatlinburg Welcome Center. There will be no access to Wiley Oakley from the Spur.
• Wiley Oakley Drive and Greystone Heights Road remain inaccessible due to critical utility work. Emergency crews are working to open it as soon as possible.
• The Water Boil Advisory is still in effect for Gatlinburg, with the exception of the areas east of City Hall.
The following individuals lost their lives in the fire and have been identified by officials:

Rev. Ed Taylor
Rev. Ed Taylor, age 85, of 644 Woodland Drive in Gatlinburg. He was well-known for marrying thousands of couples as part of Gatlinburg Chapel Ministries and had just retired last year. A World War II veteran, Taylor died from smoke inhalation and was found outside his home, his son learned from investigators. His 10-year-old teacup poodle BeBe had been found wandering outside the home. The dog is now with family members.

Brad Phillips

Bradley Phillips, age 59, discovered at 412 Long Hollow Road. Family members told WBIR that he was found near his home and asked for prayers during this difficult time. Family members had posted on Twitter after the fire when they had been unable to contact Phillips, asking for help locating him.

Constance Reed, 34; and daughters Chloe Reed, 12, and Lily Reed, 9, all of 347 Wiley Oakley Dr.
Constance Reed with
 husband Michael Reed
Lily Reed with father Michael
Chloe Reed
All three were discovered near their Wiley Oakley home. Constance Reed's husband Michael Reed had gone for a ride with their 15-year-old son Nicholas, unaware the fire was near their home. His wife had called to say the fire was across the road from their house and he told her to call 911 and get out of the house. He tried to drive back to reach his wife and daughters, but the road was blocked. Constance Reed and her daughters didn't make it as they attempted to flee on foot, according to Sheriff's Department reports. Michael Reed was notified of his wife's death around 10 a.m. this morning, Saturday, Dec. 3, and learned that his daughters were the two unidentified bodies found with his wife, according to Dana Soehn of the National Park Service at a press conference Saturday afternoon.

Alice Hagler
Alice Hagler, age 70, a retired grandmother who lived in Chalet Village. She had two hip replacements and couldn't move around very well, according to her son. She was found in her cabin. She was worried about the heavy winds and was on the phone with her son James Wood, who lived with her but wasn't home at the time, when her cabin caught fire around 8:30 p.m. Monday. He told her to get out, but she didn't make it. Her other son, Lyle Wood, is pastor of a church in Savannah, Georgia.

Jon and Janet Summers, age 61, of Memphis, both perished in the fire at Chalet Village. They were vacationing in Gatlinburg with their three sons, Branson Summers, 23, and twins Wesley and Jared Summers, 22. The sons were separated from their parents after the family tried to escape from Chalet Village by car but a downed tree blocked their path and they attempted to escape the flames on foot, according to CNN. The boys were found together, unconscious from smoke inhalation, and suffering burns, according to Fox13 News. Their uncle Jim Summers said the boys had to run through walls of fire all the way down the mountain as the heavy winds fanned flames into an inferno on both sides of the road. Jared was released from the hospital Thursday, but Wesley and Jared remain hospitalized at Vanderbilt Medical Center's burn center.

John Tegler, age 71, and his wife Janet Tegler, age 70, of Canada, were found dead on Skyline Drive in Chalet Village. The couple, originally from Woodstock, Ontario, Canada, was visiting their Gatlinburg vacation home to celebrate the long Thanksgiving weekend in the US, their son-in-law Dave LaPointe told the Canadian Press. They were attempting to flee when the wildfire overtook the Chalet Village area and were found near their home. They would have celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary this year. They were in Gatlinburg with their daughter Jessica Tegler of Roswell, GA, who had already left because she had to be back to work in Roswell on Monday. The Teglers were planning to leave Gatlinburg Monday, but the road was closed.

May Evelyn Norred Vance, 75, of Gatlinburg, died of a heart attack trying to escape the fire and as a result of suffering from smoke inhalation, officials said. She was a grandmother and the wife of Jimmy Vance Sr. The Vances were formerly of Nashville.

--An unidentified person found in a room at the Travelers Motel off U.S. Highway 321.

--Three unidentified people found in a home on Campbell Lead Road.

Pam Johnson - Missing
STILL LISTED AS MISSING is Pamela "Mama Pam" Johnson, 59, a longtime employee of McKinney's Market on Highway 321. She left the market before it burned and has not been found. She was living at Travelers Motel in Gatlinburg on Ski Mountain Road. Her granddaughter Karyssa Dalton told the Knoxville News-Sentinel that Pam had a backpack filled with supplies and was ready to evacuate. She was in a room at the Travelers Motel caring for a neighbor's pets, and was planning to go back to her own room to get her disabled chihuahua if the situation got worse. Karyssa tried to call her grandmother back at around 10:36 p.m. Monday night, but she didn't answer. Authorities, Karyssa said, told her the body found at the Traveler Motel was a male and was not in her grandmother's friend's room nor in her own room. Earlier reports that Johnson had been found at LeConte Medical Center proved to be inaccurate.

***UPDATE: Louise Brooke, who lived at 316 Ski Mountain Rd. No photo available. Friends have been trying unsuccessfully to contact Brooke. ***A friend of Brooke's, Shirley Shawhan, reports that she called the TBI to provide a picture of Brooke and was told that she had been found alive. This has not been confirmed by authorities at this time.

Charles "Buck" and Diane Taylor, who lived on Ivy Road in Gatlinburg, haven't been heard from since the fire. Their friend Joyce Clemmer posted on the Gatlinburg Fire Missing or Found Facebook page on Dec. 2 at 8 a.m. that their phone was not accepting calls and they have not responded to texts.

Officials released the following details regarding the coordinated public response in warning the public about the fire storm. Officials worked diligently to coordinate the warning to the public before and during the catastrophic wildfire event that impacted Gatlinburg, other communities in Sevier County, and the park. Throughout the day, on Monday, November 28, officials sent media releases, utilized social media, and held media briefings to alert the public about the status of the fire to help them remain aware of the urgency of the continuously evolving situation.

Notifications were sent to the general public through widespread media coverage beginning with multiple news releases from the park beginning at approximately 10:00 a.m., regular news briefings beginning at 2:00 p.m., and the downtown Gatlinburg siren alert system to warn the public about the impending dangerous winds and fire threat. Officials made door-to-door notifications, beginning at noon, to affected communities.

Throughout the day, the command post was in contact with state emergency agencies about emergency response. At approximately 8:30 p.m., the command post contacted the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) requesting an Emergency Alert System (EAS) evacuation message to be sent to the Gatlinburg area through the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), a system which has the capability of sending text messages to mobile devices. However, communications between the agencies was interrupted due to disabled phone, internet, and electrical services. Due to this communication failure, the emergency notification was not delivered as planned through IPAWS as an EAS message or as a text message to mobile devices. At the same time, the National Weather Service was unable to reach the local command post. Through collaboration with the Sevier County Dispatch, they were able to deliver the mandatory evacuation alert through an EAS message to radio and television only. Once communications were re-established, TEMA was able to send a mobile message later in the evening via IPAWS asking Sevier County residents to stay off mobile devices except for emergency use.

Despite the catastrophic events that created barriers to communication, officials utilized all resources available to them at the time to warn the public of the impending threat. The multi-agency response of firefighters, police, and emergency responders continues to work efficiently as they enter the recovery phase.

29 November 2016

Three Deaths Reported in Gatlinburg Fire, LeConte Lodge and Elkmont Undamaged by Fire

Three people have reportedly died as a result of the wildfires that swept through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Monday night and burned hundreds of structures in and around Gatlinburg, causing the evacuation of over 14,000 residents. Gov. Bill Haslam visited Gatlinburg on Tuesday to survey damage from the fires, which Park officials say have burned more than 15,000 acres. Haslam called it the "largest fire in the last hundred years in the state of Tennessee.

Destroyed structure still on fire. By Scott Frederick.
The identities of those killed have not been released. Three people suffered severe burns and were transported to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville for treatment. They are in critical condition. According to Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters, fourteen people were transported to local hospitals.

During a news conference on Tuesday, Waters worried about the possibility of more fatalities. "We have not been able to get in to all of the areas. We pray that we don't experience any more fatalities," Waters said. More than 2,000 people are staying in shelters in Gatlinburg.

Fire Chief Greg Miller said progress has been hindered by crews encountering downed trees and power poles. Many roads can't be reopened until the blockages are cleared, which makes progress slower. Firefighters are still battling hotspots throughout Gatlinburg, Miller noted.

Crews continue to fight a fire at Westgate Resort.
By Scott Frederick
The fire, which officials say originated from the Chimney Tops 2 fire and was fueled by heavy winds at times topping 87 mph, damaged about 70 structures in the Wears Valley area and 70 structures in the Cobbly Nob area near Pittman Center, along with many businesses and structures in and around Gatlinburg. The Chimney 2 fire had been burning since Nov. 23 and affected Chimney Tops and Bullhead Ridge areas. Many Park roads were closed due to the fire, which is currently of unknown origin. The sudden doubling of wind speeds Monday evening blew embers as far away as a mile, according to Park officials, sparking more fires, which in turn toppled power lines, which sparked even more fires. All of this contributed to the devastation in Sevier County Monday night.

NPS spokeswoman Dana Soehn said the Chimneys fire that sparked the other blazes was "human caused," but didn't give any further details. She said the blaze is under investigation.

Many erroneous reports were making the rounds on Tuesday about the destruction of landmarks, but officials confirmed that Ober Gatlinburg was spared, as was the Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies, which houses over 10,000 marine animals. A team of marine biologists were escorted by police back into the aquarium Tuesday afternoon to tend to the animals and assess the situation. Most of Gatlinburg's main street businesses were also spared, but surrounding businesses such as the Mountain Lodge Restaurant, several cabins at the Dollywood theme park, and portions of Tree Tops Resort, Westgate Resort and Highland Condomiums received damage as well, as did portions of Chalet Village, and parts of Ski Mountain Road.

LeConte Lodge, a well-known and iconic backcountry hiking destination in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park's Mount LeConte, was spared from the wildfires, according to a press release issued by the National Park Service on Tuesday. NPS officials say the lodging facility at the base of Mount LeConte, and the Elkmont Campground and Historic Districts, sustained no damage from the fire activities in the park on Monday evening. Some Elkmont buildings sustained roof damage from falling trees caused by heavy winds, and some roof repairs will be required.

Destruction caused by the Gatlinburg Fire. By Scott Frederick.
Tomorrow, November 30, the park will turn the fire management operation to the Southern Area Type I Incident Command Team (Dueitt) to manage the ongoing fire activities within the park. This team consists of federal and state interagency team members from across the country who collaboratively manages wildland fire and other incident management activities such as natural disaster relief efforts.

More than 120 Tennessee Army National Guard solders arrived on Tuesday to help Sevier County Emergency Management personnel with transporting first responders and removing light debris, as well as checking on residents affected by the fires. A press release from Maj. Gen. Max Haston, Tennessee Adjutant General, said, "We are working closely with the local responders in Sevier and surrounding counties to assist in whatever is required to save lives and property."

All Park facilities are currently closed due to extensive fire activity and downed trees. Park headquarters has no phone service or electricity. Area trails are also closed due to the fire. A ban on campfires and open grills had already been in effect in the Great Smokies since Nov. 15.

Firefighters battling the Gatlinburg fires. NPS
A 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew is in effect in Gatlinburg. A high wind warning was issued by the National Weather Service for Tuesday night into Wednesday afternoon. They predicted lightning and sustained winds of up to 40 mph, with gusts up to 60 mph. Officials feared the forecast - Gatlinburg Mayor Mike Werner called it "ominous," - and officials worried about fires that continue to smolder being whipped up and spread by heavy winds. Rain is expected in the area by Wednesday morning. Residents in the area were advised to boil water as a precaution.

The City of Gatlinburg has cancelled the "Fantasy of Lights" Christmas Parade that was scheduled for Dec. 2. Most businesses in Pigeon Forge are now open and evacuations are no longer taking place there.

For more information, visit the National Park Service on their website or on social media.