NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Tennessee has seen wildfires before, but not like the ones in Sevier County.
The wildfires that took at least 13 lives and nearly wiped out the tiny tourism hub of Gatlinburg look more like a scene out of California.
Char Miller, a wildfire expert and professor of environmental analysis at Pomona College near Los Angeles, says the East Tennessee fires look familiar.
“It’s distressingly similar to the kinds of wildfires that we encounter in California and much of the American West,” explained Miller.
Miller said the severe drought, high winds, and low humidity in Tennessee earlier in the week are similar to conditions that regularly fuel fires out West.
“I guess one of the ways for folks in Tennessee to think about it is that California is moving east,” Miller said.
Those same conditions make wildfires incredibly hard to predict, which is partially responsible for the late evacuation orders Monday night.
“When those fires take off, they really take off. And they’re erratic, you can’t really predict them.”
Miller said if the drought conditions continue, so will the risk of disastrous wildfires.