14 Insurers Pressing Lawsuit vs. Park Service After Gatlinburg Wildfires
Fourteen insurance companies are pressing ahead with a lawsuit against the federal government, alleging that the National Park Service did little to stop 2016 wildfires that destroyed dozens of homes and businesses in and around Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
The suit, led by American Reliable Insurance Co., United National, American Security and others, asks for at least $200 million. It joins a similar lawsuit filed by 88 residents and business owners who lost property and loved ones in the fires. They are seeking more than $37 million in damages, according to local news reports.
The insurance carriers’ lawsuit was filed in 2019 but has gone mostly unnoticed by the news media until this week. The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee, charges that the U.S. Department of the Interior and National Park Service officials in the Great Smoky Mountains ignored safety protocols and did not have an adequate plan to suppress the fires.
The Chimney Top fires erupted in November 2016, after what was called an extreme drought condition in the area. After a small fire began, one park worker tried to contain it, but could not, then did not return until a day later, the complaint reads.
With most park staff off duty for the Thanksgiving holiday, no overnight monitoring of the fire was done. Windy weather conditions caused the fire to spread to nearby populated areas, but officials failed to warn residents in time to help mitigate the damage, the insurers charge.
The fires claimed 14 lives and burned more than 1,400 buildings, according to news reports.
Photo: Burned structures are seen from aboard a National Guard helicopter near Gatlinburg, on Nov. 29, 2016. Thousands of people raced through a hell-like landscape to escape the wildfires. (AP Photo/Erik Schelzig)
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