Gatlinburg mayor remembers deadly fires six years later

Mayor Mike Werner lost his home and business in the midst of planning next steps for the city after 2016 wildfires.
Mayor Mike Werner lost his home and business in the midst of planning next steps for the city after 2016 wildfires.
Published: Nov. 28, 2022 at 11:28 PM EST
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GATLINBURG, Tenn. (WVLT) - On Nov. 28, 2016, wildfires tore through Gatlinburg and Sevier County, leaving behind devastation in the days and years after.

“It was so smoky; it felt like a heavy fog,” said Gatlinburg Mayor Mike Werner.

What followed was 14 people losing their life and destruction or damage to more than 2,600 homes or businesses.

“I don’t know if we’ll ever recover, but these lessons learned will help us in the future,” said EMA Director Joe Ayers.

After 2016 some procedural changes were made to how Sevier County handles emergencies. The county instituted a new Code Red system where people sign up, and in the event of an emergency, they get a phone call warning them of danger and what to do next.

Another change is that the county now handles the emergency notifications instead of TEMA, hoping that a more localized approach will notify people quicker.

In the midst of responding to the wildfires, mayor Werner recalls getting word that his home and business had both burned down.

“Basically, the city manager and I made a pact; she lost her home in the fire, too, that we’re not going to worry about ourselves until we take care of everybody else,” said Werner.

His home and business were total losses, and the belongings were inside.

At Mynatt Park, a memorial is being built to honor those that lost their lives six years ago. Mayor Werner hopes it’ll all be finished by the end of the year.