April 13, 2024

Climatologist highlights major factors in Gatlinburg wildfires

Dr. Grissino-Mayer pinpoint the leading four factors that contributed to the quick spread of November 2016 fires at the UT Science Forum on Friday, Feb. 10.

Photo by Thomas Ferrell

Dr. Henri D. Grissino-Mayer insisted that there were lessons to be learned from Gatlinburg, Tennessee’s November 2016 wildfires.

Though two teenagers have been charged for aggravated arson in the wildfire case, Grissino-Mayer claimed that it was “only a matter of time” before the blaze occurred. The fire’s swift spread was due to four key factors: Wind, building material, drought and difficult access for firefighters.

Weather awareness and new building materials to rebuild with could be key in preventing another disaster. According to Grissino-Mayer, a major factor of the sweeping devastation was the flammability of the buildings in Gatlinburg because the city was made of “wood, wood, and wood.”

With the drought working in tandem with high winds, flames only spread faster as the fire approached Gatlinburg.

“I went to bed, and the fire was about 4 miles from Gatlinburg. The next morning, three people were dead,” Grissino-Mayer said.

However, Grissino-Mayer was insistent that fires are a natural part of the environment. He highlighted numerous plants in Appalachia that required fire to survive, reproduce or thrive.

“First and foremost,” Grissino-Mayer said, “fire is a part of our natural ecosystem, no matter how you look at it…[fire] has been for hundreds of millennia.”

Knoxville resident Lynn Davis expressed her appreciation for the lecturer. “I’m glad someone is taking the time to dissect the causes of this disaster,” Davis said, “I’ve lived in Gatlinburg myself, and every time something like this happens, they rebuild again with more wood cabins. It’s like no lessons are drawn, but hopefully this time will be different.”

More information about future UT Science Forum meetings can be found here.


Edited by McKenzie Manning

Featured image by Thomas Ferrell

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