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Gatlinburg wildfire survivors talk lawsuits at Sevier Co. Commission Meeting

Survivors discussed plans to sue the National Park Service following deadly 2016 wildfires.
Gatlinburg Wildfire
Gatlinburg Wildfire
Published: Mar. 20, 2017 at 4:09 PM EDT
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GATLINBURG, Tenn. - Survivors of the November 2016 wildfires that ripped through Gatlinburg discussed plans to file suit during a Sevier County Commission Meeting on March 20, 2017.

One survivor who spoke during the meeting said she is involved in a lawsuit that will be filed against the National Park Service in June. She said Gillreath and Associates of Knoxville was working with the people looking to file lawsuits against the Park Service.

The administrator of the Gatlinburg Wildfire Survivor Facebook group, Melinda Stites, said the group of 230 members has been persistent about questioning how officials responded before and during the wildfires that killed 14 people. Members include those who lost loved ones, property and businesses in the deadly November wildfires.

"I've been told that officials are getting scared and that we are the main talk in board meetings. Our persistence is paying off," Stites said.

Speakers at the meeting Monday evening questioned how warnings were issued and evacuations were handled.

The meeting featured retired Park Ranger Jerry Grubb, who spoke on behalf of people that were evacuated, as well as community members that lost their homes and loved ones during the fires. He spoke about what he called the National Park Service's negligence.

"Absolutely no one, no one, should have been injured or killed in that fire," Grubb said. "It may have burnt this city to the ground, but if they had gone back to their crisis intervention and done what their NPS regulations said, it would never have happened."

Melinda Stites requested solutions for problems that occurred during the wildfires.

"I want to see public access to an evacuation plan," Stites said. "I want to see sirens put everywhere. They are talking about putting sirens downtown, but what about where all the deaths occurred in Chalet Village?"

Stites told Local 8 News she just barely made it off the mountain in time with her family. She said a group of people are currently involved in lawsuits against the National Park Service.