Hundreds of people have brought claims in the millions of dollars against the National Park Service and the Department of the Interior for what they say is their role in the fires that torched Gatlinburg and Sevier County in Tennessee last fall.
Attorney Sidney Gilreath is representing all of them, reports WATE. Gilreath’s case claims the National Park Service was unprepared to fight the fire and should have anticipated a wildfire of that scale, and failed to maintain adequate staff and equipment for such a fire.
Two teenagers were arrested and charged with aggravated arson in the fires, but those charges were dropped in June.
A Park Service after-action report on the Gatlinburg fires cites “unprecedented” conditions that fed the wildfire, while acknowledging that incompatible radios and a lack of readily available maps made firefighting more difficult. The agency has announced corrective steps for weaknesses identified by the after-action report.
Gilreath contends that a funding request made by the park’s fire management officer weeks before the fire started shows that those conditions weren’t as unexpected as the Park Service says they were.
That request asked for additional funding to combat potential fire conditions, according to WATE.
“He had made this request several weeks before the fire citing the severe conditions,” Gilreath said. “So they knew about the severe conditions.”
Gilreath says his clients are pursuing claims against the federal government because the fire started on National Park Service land. Gilreath also noted that his clients can be awarded any amount of money in a suit of this kind, unlike a suit against the state of Tennessee or the city of Gatlinburg.
A request for comment went unanswered by the National Park Service.