Last Day in Sevier Co. Filled with Searching, Assessments for Williamson firefighters

The wildfires are mostly out in Sevier County, but they left Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge in an ashy wake.

The Williamson County task force of around 50 firefighters from all the departments in the county faces a grim duty Thursday on what is its last day deployed in Eastern Tennessee.

The command center has tasked them, and many other departments from around the state that responded to the emergency call on Tuesday morning, with searching burned structures for damage assessment and anyone left behind.

The fires are estimated to have damaged or destroyed more than 700 homes and businesses throughout Sevier County, according to various reports.

The Williamson County task force, comprised of men and equipment from the fire departments of Spring Hill, Franklin, Brentwood and the county, are at work in Pigeon Forge, where they spent much of their time since Tuesday.

“Today we’ve been going from house to house that are burned, checking the damage,” Terry Hood, Spring Hill fire chief, said around noon Thursday. “Just walking through to check and make sure no one is there – more kind of detail work.”

He said they put out two smaller fires early Thursday along with doing little tasks here and there.

“There was a burned out tree hanging by a thread that could have fallen on an intact cabin,” Hood said. “It wasn’t part of the assignment, but we were able to take the tree down and prevent further damage.”

The fires first touched Gatlinburg, and high winds on Monday spread it to Pigeon Forge, the theme park and Smoky Mountain resort area.

Reports are confirmed by Tennessee Emergency Management officials of seven fatalities, and an unknown number of people are missing after the sudden chaos of Gatlinburg’s emergency evacuation on Monday night. The Red Cross is working to reunite those separated from their loved ones.

Up to half of the 10-square miles of Gatlinburg was affected.

Heavy rain on Wednesday helped some, and the wildfires in the area were reported to be out by early Wednesday evening, TEMA said, though some were still smoldering.

Officials from Smoky Mountain National Park, which remains closed, estimated that nearly 16,000 acres were burned by Wednesday afternoon, with 10 percent containment. Gov. Bill Haslam called it “the largest fire in the last hundred years in the state of Tennessee.”

Chief Hood took the accompanying pictures on Wednesday, when the task force was out on calls in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg.