It's a question many are starting to ask. Could more have been done to prevent fourteen people from dying? Sevier County authorities say the evacuation text intended to alert the public never got there. Local 8 News Anchor Lauren Davis is finding out exactly what happened.
Firefighters started fighting the Chimney Tops fire Sunday, then on Monday Gatlinburg became filled with smoke. John Matthews, the Sevier County EMA Director says, "We sent out a notification to cell phone devices at 9:04 to evacuate the city."
Two hours later, NWS says they sent out another immediate evacuation order went out at 11:47 for Pigeon Forge. But why weren't the evacuations made earlier. Cassius Cash, the Park Superintendent, says, "I don't have the jurisdiction to evacuate a town. We work collectively and that's what we did on Monday okay. We said it's prudent we start thinking about moving people."
On Tuesday, the day after the fires, our own Ted Hall asked Governor Haslam what he thought about the evacuation orders. Governor Haslams says, "I don't know. My sense and I'm watching from Nashville and watching from all the agencies coordination. They did an incredible job getting everyone on the same page. The fire came out of the National Park. They quickly let the local folks know. I don't know the answer to your question, but from where I was watching, the inner-agency cooperation was really outstanding."
The EMA director told Local 8 they'd never dealt with anything like this before and it took a while to make the decision to evacuate the whole city. Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters promises to take a look at the evacuation system when the dust settles. Mayor Waters says, "We'll sit down and evaluate what went on and how it can be improved. We can always improve any system you have and we feel confident that we can do that."
Officials tell us the National Weather Service sent out the alerts through the emergency alert system. That does not go to cell phones, just TV's and radio's.