Louisiana man’s call for help during Gatlinburg wildfire saves family

Wildfire on Chimney Top in Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Courtesy: WATE/Report It! Chris Higgins)

GATLINBURG, Tenn. (WATE) – Another story from the night of the Gatlinburg wildfire has come to light after the release of emergency calls from the Sevierville Police Department.

Many of the callers turned to that town for help or answers after unsuccessfully trying to reach Gatlinburg’s emergency line.

Keith Chenier called the Sevierville Police Department for help. Family members of some friends of his were staying at the Tree Tops Resort by fire. He had been trying to reach any agency for over an hour.

“I reached the dispatch in Pigeon Forge, bu they couldn’t reach their people and he told me there is nothing I can do for you at this point,” said Chenier.

All the while, the Zeringue family was dodging a firestorm outside their timeshare.

Previous story: Dash cam video released from night of Sevier County wildfires

“We were staying up in unit seven, up against a wall out of the wind. And that is where we spent most of our time,” said Paul Zeringue.

The family fought for their lives for nearly five hours as the buildings in front of homes next to them burned.

“That was my plan, to eventually get into the swimming pool if the fire got to us,” said Zeringue.

The Zeringues didn’t give up, and neither did Chenier.

“I just started going down the line. The next time is Sevierville,” Chenier said.

He managed to get a hold of a dispatcher named Sheri.

“You just find this angel, and Sheri was like, ‘I’ll do what I can,’” he said.

The dispatcher said she had contacted the central 911 dispatch and they would send someone to the family. A short time later, the Sevierville Fire Department arrived.

“I was so glad to see them. I was very relieved that we had somebody else to help us,” said Zeringue.

A little luck and determination brought the Zeringues home to Louisiana safely. 

Dispatch: Sevierville Police Department.
Caller: Yes ma’am, my name is Keith and I’m in Louisiana right now. I have some friends’ parents who are stuck in a condo in Gatlinburg. I didn’t know if there is something you can do to help them?
Dispatch: Have you tried calling Gatlinburg police department?
Caller: Yes ma’am, but nobody is answering.
Dispatch: (Laughs) They’re probably on the other line. Tell me the address where they are.
Caller: They are at 290 Sherman Clabo Road in Gatlinburg.
Dispatch: Clay-bo in these parts?
Caller: In Louisiana, it is Cla-bo. I’m sorry.
Dispatch: Let’s see 290, now, there are lots of 290s so there is going to be a number after that… another number. Like, there is a million of those up there.
Caller: The only thing I know is Tree Top Condos. Yes, and there is a bazillion of those up in Roaring Forks. Is there another number behind the 29?
Dispatch: There would have to be.
Caller: Yeah, I know they are off of. Oh, I know where they are, but short of going through every single one of those condos looking for them. And they’re there right now. Are you sure they did not evacuate? We’ve been texting back and forth and apparently the fire is around them and they can’t get out. Let’s see what the condo number is, because they don’t want to go condo to condo.
Dispatch: Oh, there is hundreds of them there.

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