Gatlinburg 911 calls express fear, frustration among those in da - WSMV News 4

Gatlinburg 911 calls express fear, frustration among those in danger

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(WSMV file photo) (WSMV file photo)

After months of waiting, 911 calls from the Gatlinburg wildfires were finally released to News 4 this week.

In them, you can hear the panic not only among those calling for help, but also dispatchers taking those calls.

The calls show the frustration and fear among those who were in danger. Many who didn't know what to do or where to go and were just looking for someone to tell them how they could stay safe.

In many of the calls, people seem confused whether or not they should evacuate, even though they can see smoke from their homes.

“Yes sir, I was really just calling to know if they're evacuating Gatlinburg or not. I’m a local, I live here,” one caller said.

“What's going on is the Chimney Tops fire in the national park is producing heavy smoke because of the wind. That's what you’re seeing right now, OK?” the Sevier County dispatcher said.

“OK, alrighty. So we're not under any kind of major evacuation?” the caller replied.

“If you’re going to be evacuated they'll notify you. They'll make contact with you,” the dispatcher said.

But confusion quickly turned into panic and anger.

In another call the dispatcher said, “Are you calling because you need to know whether or not you need to evacuate?”

“I need somebody to come … more people to come put these freakin' fires out before my house burns down,” the caller said.

“Ma’am, listen … we have so many fires going on right now we are doing the best we can. If you feel like you need to evacuate go ahead and evacuate,” the dispatcher said.

The caller responds, “I don't have anywhere to go, OK.”

These 911 calls shed light on how emergency crews initially responded to the fires. Some called saying roads were blocked by debris and parts of their house were quickly falling off. Others wondered how long until it was their turn to get help.

In a third call the caller said, “We got a cabin … the fire’s right there at it. It’s going to go up and it's a big cabin.”

“Ma’am they're telling everybody to evacuate. We'll get to them as soon as possible. We have over 25 fires right now that are confirmed,” the dispatcher said.

Some trapped in homes during fire

In some cases, emergency crews had no way of reaching people trapped in their homes during the wildfires.

On Nov. 28, Gatlinburg police were flooded by calls. With crews battling treacherous conditions and blocked roads, some victims had no option but to save themselves.

Dispatchers found themselves not only taking calls, but giving critical advice.

“We are trying to evacuate because of the fire and a tree fell over our car,” one caller said. “Should we stay put or try to walk out?"

“Best bet would be to walk out if you can,” a dispatcher said.

Multiple times dispatchers assured callers help was coming. But as the fire spread, more victims were told to go rather than wait.

“We have to get out of our car, it’s catching on fire,” a caller said.

“If you get out of the car, just try to get down the road, run down the road if you can,” the dispatcher replied.

Eventually some roads became impassible, leaving victims with few options.

Several victims reported they couldn’t escape due to debris in the roads. Others encountered traffic congestion as thousands tried to flee the city around the same time.

One man called 911 to report a family being trapped inside a home.

“That part of Baskins Creek is not accessible,” the dispatcher told the caller. “We can’t access it past the 400 block. We can’t go anywhere past that.”

“You can’t go the other way?” the caller asked.

“No, sir, we cannot, it’s blocked as well,” the dispatcher said.

More than once, victims are told emergency personnel cannot reach them.

“We’re trapped up here, there’s a fire everywhere around us,” another called said. “There’s a big tree in the road, we can’t get in, we can’t get out.”

“If there’s any way, you’re going to have to walk down to get down,” the dispatcher replied.

“There’s no one to help me get the tree out of the way?” the caller asked.

“We can’t even get up there ourselves, ma’am,” the dispatcher answered.

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