By U.S. Department of Energy
The Great Smoky Mountains, which are normally wet and hazy, had been in a particularly prolonged drought when a fire started near a popular lookout several miles from the resort town of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, just before Thanksgiving. Park officials warily watched the slowly spreading blaze, which was in nearly vertical and mostly unreachable terrain.
At the close of the holiday weekend, a weather system moved in, whipping up gale-force winds hours ahead of the rain. The wind supercharged the fire, driving eerie, thick smoke down the basin toward the town. By Monday night, the homes, resorts, and businesses surrounding Gatlinburg were in the middle of a firestorm as flames destroyed structure after structure. Downed power lines sparked separate fires.
On the evening of November 28, park and city officials reached out to firefighters in the region for support as flames engulfed entire neighborhoods. By the time quenching rains arrived, the 17,000-acre forest fire had burned 1,700 structures—many of them homes—and took 14 lives.
Firefighters from Oak Ridge National Laboratory, located about 50 miles away, were among those who answered the call. With an immediate go-ahead from the ORNL Site Office, the ORNL Fire Department, or ORNLFD, dispatched resources to assist responders in Gatlinburg and neighboring Pigeon Forge. [Read more…]