Sparta and White County firefighters are recognized for response during the 2016 Smoky Mountain wildfires
by Bobby Lee McCulley | November 9, 2017 8:00 am
Last Updated: November 9, 2017 at 8:04 am
In an effort to honor and say thank you to the hundreds of firefighters who answered the call almost one year ago to assist the City of Pigeon Forge and other Sevier County communities, a monument has been resurrected in their honor.
Almost one year ago, in late November 2016, Sevier County was faced with the one of the largest wildfires to hit the Great Smoky Mountains. Over 300 firefighters from across Tennessee responded to the mutual aid request made by Pigeon Forge and other Sevier County communities.
On Nov. 7, 2016, of the approximately 70 different fire departments that answered the call from Pigeon Forge, over 40 departments came to the one-year anniversary luncheon held by the City of Pigeon Forge. During the luncheon, Pigeon Forge Fire Chief Tony Watson recognized each department and presented them a token and thanked them for their assistance last year.
“Could not have made it without them,” said Watson. “We were getting overwhelmed with the amount of calls we were getting in. We were getting over 200 calls an hour and didn’t have the resources to field all of those calls. If it wasn’t for the mutual aid we received, there’s no way we could have came out as well as we did during those wildfires.”
Firefighters from Sparta and White County were some of the over 300 that responded to assist Pigeon Forge and Sevier County. It was because of the statewide network of emergency responders that numerous lives and property were able to be saved from the destruction of the devastating wildfires that ripped through the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and Sevier County.
Approximately 17,140 acres were destroyed in Sevier County by the 2016 wildfires. The wildfires originated from multiple locations because of severe winds that downed trees and power lines and included a fire determined to be arson that was set at the Chimney Tops area inside of the national park.
The Great Smoky Mountain wildfires took the lives of 14 people, injured 190, damaged and destroyed approximately 2,500 structures, and caused over $500 million in overall damages to Sevier County. However, local and state officials believe that if the overwhelming response of first responders didn’t come to Sevier County, the damages and loss of life could have been significantly higher.
“Pigeon Forge owes an immeasurable debt of gratitude to so many but especially our first responders who selflessly and tirelessly gave of themselves to protect Pigeon Forge,” stated Pigeon Forge City Administrator Earlene Teaster.
As a way to say thank you and to forever honor those who responded and provided aid to Pigeon Forge, the Pigeon Forge City Commission has resurrected a tribute wall at Patriot Park. The tribute titled “For Those Who Answered The Call” represents Pigeon Forge, the Great Smoky Mountains, and the first responders who protected the city.
Etched into the 4,400 pound 10-foot by 10-foot stainless steel wall are the names of the departments that responded to the mutual aid request of Pigeon Forge. The city hopes that those who view this wall will be reminded of the sacrifices made by so many to protect Pigeon Forge, Sevier County, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
“This event greatly demonstrated that the Pigeon Forge community extends far beyond our city’s boundaries and includes people from around the world, many who have visited Pigeon Forge and some who simply feel a strong affinity for the Smoky Mountains,” stated Pigeon Forge Mayor David Wear. “All of them answered the call, especially the first responders who were on the front lines.”
School children also shared their gratitude by painting rocks and writing cards to their heroes. Patriot Park, where the tribute wall has been resurrected, is located at 186 Old Mill Avenue, in Pigeon Forge.