MJ joins Wilson agencies to fight Gatlinburg fires
Wilson County has stepped in to help a beloved vacation destination in East Tennessee during their time of need.
Mt. Juliet will join other Wilson County fire agencies heading toward Sevier County to provide mutual aid to the Gatlinburg area of the Great Smokey Mountains to fight the growing wildfires.
Fire Department of Mt. Juliet will join the Wilson County EMA and the Lebanon Fire Department in a joint effort to provide Sevier County with more firefighters.
Chief Jamie Luffman said six FDMJ firefighters left for the Gatlinburg area Tuesday morning. One full time, on part time and four volunteer firefighters will represent Mt. Juliet. FDMJ also supplied a ladder truck.
The City of Lebanon has sent eight personnel, one command vehicle and more.
WEMA has dispatched one brush truck and two personnel to man it, an EMS Strike Team with two personnel and six personnel to represent DART (Disaster Animal Response Team).
Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto said that the request came in Monday night - and that teams were sent on Tuesday morning.
"We are glad to help our neighboring counties. We are the volunteer state, as you know, and we always want to help when there is a need," he said. "Our guys are going to supplying the fix for that need."
According to Luffman, from reports he's been given, Sevier County EMA has declared a state of emergency. A Level 111 State of Emergency has been in place since Nov. 10 due to the ongoing drought conditions and wildlife threats in Tennessee.
Luffman said he has been updated by WEMA Chief Joey Cooper throughout the day. According to reports, hundreds of firefighters, local and state personnel have responded to the wildfire situation or are coordinating to help those who are.
Thousands of residents and visitors evacuated overnight in Sevier County. Luffman's updates indicate hundreds of structures are damaged and destroyed by the wildfires.
Currently, the wildfires are in and around of cities of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. Luffman said according to reports, likely 14,000-plus residents and visitors have evacuated from Gatlinburg alone.
Reports say even with the rain, the fires continue to burn with little hope more rainfall will bring immediate relief.
According to initial reports, a temporary flight restriction is in place to prevent aircraft from complicating the response.
Sevier County Emergency Management Agency personnel have conducted some very preliminary surveys of damaged areas and estimates hundreds of structures are lost; Westgate Resorts is likely entirely gone (more than 100 buildings), Black Bear Falls has likely lost every single cabin. There are conflicting reports on the current status of Ober Gatlinburg.
Luffman said with Wilson County four-plus hours away and asked to help out, "Things must be really, really bad."
He said he was proud his three-year-old department will lend a hand and is proud of his "team" on their way to help, as well as all the others from Wilson County.
Reports say numerous roads remain closed and blocked by fallen trees and power lines. State Hwy. 441 heading into Gatlinburg is closed, except for emergency traffic. State Hwy. 441 leaving Gatlinburg is open to evacuating traffic.
Additionally, the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency has liaison officers in Sevier County and has activated the East Tennessee Regional Coordination Center to facilitate resource requests and mission assignments.
Green, McMinn, Sevier county schools are closed today. Cocke County Schools ran two hours late.
Staff Writer Sabrina Garrett may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.