Lessons from the fires in Gatlinburg
From Wintergreen Fire and Rescue Chief Curtis Sheets
December 6, 2016
Dear Wintergreen owners and neighbors:
Many of you have reached out via email and social media regarding the recent fires in Gatlinburg, Tenn., and the relevance to Wintergreen.
First and foremost, our thoughts and prayers are with the many families affected by the tragic fires. Our utmost respect goes out to our fellow firefighters who fought valiantly to save life and property under horrific conditions.
The similarities between Wintergreen and Gatlinburg are significant. Our topography, structure load, proximity to National Park land, and even the insurance rating of our fire department are all nearly identical.
Wintergreen long ago identified the need to communicate real-time information to owners and guests regarding urgent safety needs. Using the Alert Wintergreen system and the Wintergreen Resort switchboard we can reach thousands of people within minutes. In fact, our last “priority message” regarding a forest fire in Lovingston was confirmed by over 1,000 people in less than 10 minutes.
Wintergreen has participated in a fire risk reduction program referred to as “Firewise Communities USA” since 2008. Firewise Communities (managed by the National Fire Protection Association) is designed to recognize those communities at risk for a significant wildfire and attempt to mitigate hazards.
In 2010, Wintergreen Fire Department and the Virginia Department of Forestry collaborated on the creation of a very detailed “Pre-fire Attack Plan.” This working document identifies all partners and parameters associated with wildfire at Wintergreen.
As your Chief of Fire & Rescue, I’m tasked with making the community as safe as possible. The Gatlinburg fires will cause a complete evaluation of all existing Wintergreen wildfire plans. With this new data available, we must validate all policies and make adjustments as indicated by the evidence. We will work closely with the Virginia Department of Forestry as they collaborate with their peers in Tennessee. When appropriate, we may visit Gatlinburg to see first-hand the devastation and hope to learn from our counterparts exactly how they feel we could be better prepared.
What I will not do, (what I have never done) is tell you not to worry about fires at Wintergreen. We shouldn’t be afraid, however. We should all be vigilant. Prevention responsibilities are shared equally between all persons who spend time at Wintergreen, and all persons who live or visit the valley floors and/or Blue Ridge Parkway. The old adage says, “there’s safety in numbers.” It will take us all to keep Wintergreen safe. I have no doubt we can achieve the goal.