With burn spots still visible, Gatlinburg vows to come back better than ever

Photo: WKRN

GATLINBURG, Tenn. (WKRN) – It’s been nearly six months since the Great Smoky Mountains were devastated by wildfires.

While driving through Sevier County, the burn marks from the November wildfires are easy to spot, but it’s also easy to spot construction crews hard at work on rebuilding homes and businesses that were lost.

Many residents told News 2 that the horrific images from six months ago are some they will never forget.

PHOTOS: Wildfires in East Tennessee

“When we came in two days after it looked like a war scene – there were houses gone, stuff smoking,” recalled Isaac Gibson with New Creation Construction.

Gibson is among the contractors that are helping rebuild the more than 2,000 structures that were damaged by the massive fires.

“It’s a good sign,” he said. “It gives them a sense of hope for other people around that aren’t sure if they want to rebuild.”

Photo: WKRN

County Mayor Larry Waters told News 2 rebuilding is happening in all parts of the county and people are coming back better than ever.

“We’ve issued over 700 demolition permits where folks are cleaning up their property,” he said.

Waters also said the county is learning from their actions and making sure they continue to make the best decisions when it comes to disasters.

“We have some working groups that are looking at ways to go ahead and enhance our emergency response system,” he said.

The county is also bringing in a task force to survey the procedures and policies.

Photo: WKRN

“Part of that review will tell us what happened that night that was done the right way and what can be improved on,” Mayor Waters explained. “You never can be ready but to try to do everything we can to improve our systems.”

Until then, Gatlinburg will continue to rebuild and Gibson is happy to put his touch on the framework for a successful community that he calls home.

“It’ll be something that we can tell our grandkids, you know, the night that Gatlinburg caught fire,” he said.

Fourteen people were killed in the fires and more than 2,500 structures were damaged.

Click here for complete coverage of the Sevier County wildfires.