One year ago this week, flames roared down from Great Smoky Mountains National Park into Gatlinburg, consuming thousands of structures and claiming 14 lives. Gatlinburg has proved resilient-structures are being rebuilt and loyal tourists that have loved the town for generations continue to return. Yet much was lost that cannot be rebuilt; 14 people who were family, friends, and community members and countless family heirlooms and treasured possessions housed in the burned structures.
On the anniversary of Gatlinburg, we on the North Carolina side of the mountains must remember that such a blaze could happen here, and that even a less intense fire can easily threaten homes and communities. Decades of fire suppression have loaded our woods with fuel, and houses built on steep slopes accessed only by narrow roads can make protecting homes from fires difficult for first responders.
That reality means that residents of Western North Carolina must take seriously our responsibility to prepare our homes so they are ready if fire threatens. The Firewise program offers homeowners and communities a guide to decreasing fire risk, with many solutions that are simple Saturday afternoon projects. Check out http://firewise.org/wildfire-preparedness/be-firewise/home-and-landscape.aspx for project ideas and http://firewise.org/usa-recognition-program.aspx for more information on how to work on fire risk issues as a community.
Questions on fire safety and home preparedness can be directed to your North Carolina Forest Service County Ranger (find yours here: http://www.ncforestservice.gov/contacts/contacts_main.htm).
Questions on the Firewise Communities program can be directed to your county ranger or Southwestern NC RC&D at firstname.lastname@example.org.