"Surviving Gatlinburg" is a documentary film about the catastrophic Chimney 2 wildfire event that took place on November 28th, 2016. At the time this was the worst natural disaster in Tennessee state history. A lot of corruption occurred during, and after the event leaving those that were there many questions about how the local government officials reacted as the fire swept into town.

They blamed it on 2 kids, only to later drop the charges.

When two juveniles were arrested for allegedly starting a fire on the Chimney Tops in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a gag order was put in place that provided City, State, County, and Federal employees a reprieve from having their actions in fighting the Chimney 2 fire from being placed under a microscope.  If the fire was started by 2 adults, instead of two juveniles the release of public records would have been almost immediate.  Instead, the gag order became a tool used by government officials to lock down public information, keeping the public from critical information that would have exposed if government officials may have committed crimes, or were negligent of their duties as the Chimney 2 fire swept into town and killed 14 people.  So what was the government trying to hide?  And why was Jimmy Dunn tossed out as prosecutor when it was determined this case was outside of his jurisdiction?  

Under the gag order, District Attorney of the 4th district Gerald “Jimmy” Dunn had tightened the screws on allowing public information related to the Chimney 2 wildfire disaster from reaching the public.  Because the fire was allegedly set by “2 juveniles” prosecutor, Jimmy Dunn claimed the laws granted to him under juvenile proceedings in the state of Tennessee gave him the authority to place a gag order on critical public information that could play a key role in analyzing the public officials mistakes in their response to the wildfire.   

The 911 calls from Gatlinburg residents inquiring to Gatlinburg Police Department about the status of the wildfire burning towards town?  Locked under the “gag order.” Police dashcam footage showing Gatlinburg’s fire department watering down empty buildings in the downtown core while residents lives were in jeopardy throughout the city limits as the wildfire swept through.  Locked under the “gag order”.  Emails, texts, and conversations between Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s Fire Management officer Greg Salansky with NPS Managers providing insight in how they managed the fire.  Locked under Jimmy Dunn’s “Gag Order”.

For over 8 long months, the gag order reared it’s ugly head and was extremely harsh to many that lost homes, and businesses.  It was even harsher to the families of the 14 dead.  Many of those that survived the wildfire wanted answers to why they were given little to any warning about the threat the wildfire posed to the community.  A lot of that information was locked under Jimmy Dunn’s “gag order”.  It gave the city, county, state, and federal officials reprieve from answering questions about their mismanagement of this wildfire disaster.  To the public officials, they seemed to cherish that two juveniles, instead of two adults were responsible for the wildfire.  The gag order was used as an excuse to cover for their actions and misdeeds taken on November 28th, 2016.  So, with the gag order in place, the public would receive no answers from the public officials responsible for managing the wildfire.

The wildfire was left to burn for over 5 days under the watch of Great Smoky Mountains National Park Fire Management Officer Greg Salansky.  He, along with other NPS managers blatantly disregarded fire management protocols, and let the arson fire burn from November 23rd into November 28th.  Then a high wind event would blow it into an inferno that would blow it into and past the city limits of Gatlinburg.   Many in the outskirts of Gatlinburg were unaware of the dangers these fires posed to life and property.  No red flag warning were ever issued for the area, and Sevier County EMA never issued an alert to the public on the threat the wildfire posed to the area.  In fact, most were left unaware the fire posed until wildfire swept onto people’s doorsteps. 

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Chief Ranger Steve Kloster was made aware that a wildfire was burning in the park on November 23rd, 2016 moments after it was discovered.  Steve Kloster was part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Fire Management Committee, and as Chief Ranger he would work in conjunction with Fire Management Officer Greg Salansky in the management of wildfires within the park.  Since the very beginning, Chief Kloster and Greg Salansky texted one another giving each other status updates about the wildfire on the Chimney Tops. Park Superintendent Cassius Cash was on vacation for Thanksgiving weekend, and Deputy Superintendent Clay Jordan, by park management protocol was in charge of managing the park as acting Superintendent.  Starting on November 23rd, Clay Jordan as acting Superintendent was in charge in the oversight of the Chimney 2 fire from it’s very beginning.   Clay Jordan would meet with Fire Management Officer Greg Salansky, Chief Ranger Steve Kloster, and Dana Soehn on Thanksgiving morning to discuss their management of the wildfire that was now burning on the Chimney Tops. While details on what fire management procedures would be initiated at this meeting, Greg Salansky’s actions that day speaks volumes that they were just going to leave it continue to burn.  After the meeting, Greg Salansky would gather a small crew and head up to the Chimney Tops.  He would claim because of the steepness of the terrain, only he and one other ventured up to the top of the Chimneys.  Greg would get to the base of the Chimney’s at which point he took out his cell phone and started gathering matches on the ground into a plastic baggie.  Taking pictures of the matches.  Were these the infamous matches of the two kids?  Or did Greg Salansky plant these and gather them up?  That to this day is unknown.  It’s odd that Greg Salansky would block letting rangers do the investigation, because he would claim the terrain was too steep.  Somehow the area is trekked by 10’s of thousands of visitors every year.  The terrain he was on was also the ledge to the backside of the Chimneys, which is just a mere walkup, and involves no physical climbing.  A ranger could have done the investigation, but Greg tried to hold that up.  Greg Salansky then proceeded to take the matches back down the trailhead and hand them to law enforcement.  He would then look up, snap another picture of the fire now on the Chimneys, and go home for thanksgiving leaving the Chimney Tops to burn.  The trail to the Chimney Tops mountain was now closed off in multiple directions, so the boundary was secure with notices of the fire posted at all the trailheads.  So, the question is was this a prescribe burn gone wrong? 

The City of Gatlinburg and Sevier county were unprepared as the fire swarmed in and caused residents to flee in the panic as wildfire made it directly to their doorsteps.   Only two highways lead out of Gatlinburg, one that heads towards Cosby, Tennessee, and the Gatlinburg Parkway which many tourists use to get in to Pigeon Forge.  The route to Pigeon Forge would become blocked by downed trees as a wildfire rapidly expanded in that area. 

The shellshock was immediate. Residents quickly demanded why they weren’t warned about the firestorm until it was too late.  And this was when the government got …well, odd.  Quickly, things went into coverup mode with the Park Service failing to acknowledge a media request to release the dispatch records on November 23rd, 2016 during the start of the fire.  If the records were released on time, do you think Salansky and April Deming would have been a suspect?  Instead, it was hidden under a gag order that was unlawful in nature, and heinous in intent.  Blamed on two kids, that may not even exist.

A National Park Service tipline headlined by Chief Ranger Steve Kloster went out to the media.. Steve Kloster would be part of the investigation into who set the arson fire on the Chimney Tops.  Kloster was in the loop since the fire began, part of the management committee responsible for managing this fire that burned out of control.  Interestingly, the ATF was also called in for the investigation.  And the end result? Two kids arrested.  A case involving Juveniles that gets placed out of federal jurisdiction by handing it over to District Attorney James Dunn.  Interesting to note, that the reason it was given to Jimmy Dunn was from a forged document that would give Jimmy Dunn prosocution. When it was discovered that Jimmy Dunn technically did not have jurisdiction to oversee the case, Jimmy Dunn, scurried away from the table, dropping the case against the Junveniles and has since remained silent on his role in this case. This was a case where James Dunn would place the gag order that resulted in public records from being gathered from this event.  And it begged the question, what was the government trying to hide? Was it a prescribe burn gone wrong, set in a criminal manner, and left to burn.  Jimmy Dunn gave them enough time to bide their time. Surely, if that was the case, the Government would be negligent in the deaths and destruction.  So, they needed their coverup.  Blame it on two patsies that don’t actually exist, and brush it all under the rug through a kangaroo Juvenile court case that was all an act.  And so, the question begs, did the National Park Service commit clandestine arson on the Chimney Tops as an experimental prescribe burn, keeping the public out of the loop and blaming it on two kids, that more than likely don’t exist and are just the imaginary friends of Jimmy Dunn and Defense Attorney Greg Issacs?

Gary Wilson

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