RV Park & Campground News
NEWS IN FOCUS
Impact Of Tenn. Fires On Campgrounds Is Unclear
While the town of Gatlinburg, Tenn., is now free of active fires and weekend rains helped firefighters extinguish all but two wildfires in the Great Smoky Mountains region of Sevier County, Tenn., much of the area is still closed to all but first-responders and residents as a clearer picture of the damage emerges. Those in the area’s campground community are joining their friends and neighbors in assessing the loss, supporting the relief effort and gathering information in the wake of the historic fires that have taken the lives of 14 residents, destroyed more than 1,600 structures and burned over 17,000 acres thus far.
“They’re the worst wildfires in this area in over 100 years and I don’t think there’s ever been so many homes and businesses destroyed by one wildfire in the state,” Jimmy Felton, executive director at the Tennessee Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (TNARVC), told Woodall’s Campground Management.
Felton resides in the Walland area roughly thirty minutes from Gatlinburg. “I’ve actually got the car half packed with relief supplies right now and we’re heading down to the relief centers today,” he said Monday (Dec. 5).
The fires began on Nov. 28 in the Chimney Tops Mountain area within the national park, but hurricane-force winds topping 90 mph blew embers over five miles into Gatlinburg, resulting in an evacuation of all 14,000 residents. The wildfires threatened more than a dozen parks and campgrounds in the area, while at least three campgrounds — Alpine Hideaway Campground, Foothills RV Park and Cabins and Riveredge RV Park — are located within areas the county has identified as receiving heavy structural damage.
“I’ve tried contacting all the campgrounds and parks in the Gatlinburg area by phone and email and have only received one email back but no phone contact because the phone lines are melted and the cell towers have collapsed,” Felton said. “I haven’t seen anyone on the news so I’ve got my fingers crossed.”
Felton reported that Anchor Down RV Resort in nearby Dandridge has opened to all evacuees, while others have contributed supplies to the relief effort, such as owners Barbara and Greg Johnson of Big Meadow Family Campground in Townsend.
Although east Tennessee is experienceing the worst drought in more than a decade, Felton said it’s hard to imagine that anyone could have predicted such a combination of events.
“The mayor of Gatlinburg, Mike Werner, lost his business, The Highlands condos, and his home so it’s not like firefighters were playing favorites,” Felton said. “Last week we had 14 different fires going and I think we’re down to two in this vicinity.”
The nearby community of Pigeon Forge, home to Dolly Parton’s Dollywood theme park, was also threatened, and while structures on the outskirts were destroyed, the fires did not enter the theme park or the town proper.
Representatives from Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA) reported that the company-owned Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg KOA is still operating.
“Pigeon Forge KOA was not affected at all, it never closed down or was evacuated or anything like that,” said Mike Gast, vice president of communications at KOA. “We’re glad to report that everybody is okay.”
For those outside the area wishing to contribute to the relief effort, the Dollywood Foundation has created a “My People Fund”, which will send 100% of donations to families affected by the fires by providing them with $1,000 a month for up to six months.