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Wednesday, 27 September 2017 15:17

Park’s fire response was woefully inadequate

Written by 

To the Editor:

Regarding the Chimney Tops 2 wildfire review article, my stomach clenched as I read quotes from the report: “no evidence of negligence,” “park employees did the best they could,” and “the fire was not typical of eastern Tennessee.” Then the clincher: Park Superintendent Cassius Cash “embraces” the findings. Oh, I’ll bet he did.

And a young mother, on a mild November evening, “embraced” her little daughters for the last time, as a racing inferno bore down on them in the pitch dark, with nowhere to run. Her name was Constance Reed, and her last act was wrapping herself around 9-year-old Lily and 12-year-old Chloe in an attempt to protect their innocent lives.

Cassius Cash also had the opportunity to protect innocent lives. But he had plans for his Thanksgiving vacation and some pesky little wildfire wasn’t going to interfere. So he didn’t request additional resources and crews early on, when containment or eradication was still feasible. Shocking, considering that the area was in the highest level of drought monitoring by the NOAA: D4-EXCEPTIONAL, or that the nearest point of civilization (Gatlinburg) was a mere five miles from fire origination.

If Emperor Nero fiddled while Rome burned, what was Cash doing while his forestland empire torched up? Probably eating and watching the game, thinking, “If this all goes horribly wrong I’ll just blame it on my Fire Management Officer, he’s on a pretty low rung of the ladder. Oh yeah, and the wind. I’ll say the wind caught us by surprise. That’s a good one.”

This “independent” review team, hand-picked by the NPS, by the way, may have let park management off the proverbial hook, but the souls of the people who perished needlessly that night, (and there were many more than 14), and the traumatized individuals who fled from their burning homes with only the clothes on their backs, demand true accountability and a righteous apology, not more lies and excuses.

Mary-Frances Keefe

Bryson City (formerly of Gatlinburg)

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