Taking Action, Filming Gatlinburg

There is a time to talk, and a time to take action. With Gatlinburg and Sevier County, today I begin taking action.

In three hours time, with the assistance of Scooter Downey from True Legend Films and Cernovich Media, I will begin showing the world just what happened in this region. Through the power of social media, you’ll be getting a first hand look at the disaster that rocked East Tennessee last week and the efforts people took while the fires still burned to rebuild.

What in the fresh hell are you doing? 

When the fires started burning, no one, including local news, understood the gravity of what happened. At 5 PM Monday local radio reported due to smoke from forest fires officials were going “door to door” in efforts to start a “voluntary evacuation.”

Social media told a different story. Area residents were going door to door from local businesses and homes telling people to get out of Gatlinburg because the town was burning. By 7 PM the town was in full-blown evacuation mode. All this information came through social media. The major media outlets failed us.

We’re going to the scene. We’re telling the stories no one’s told. We’re asking the uncomfortable questions that need asking. We’re bringing you the truth, firsthand, on the scene.

How did you get this started?

When I got word of the fires, I took to Periscope to give people as much news as I could get from firsthand sources in the midst of the inferno. I knew the local news failed area residents, so I wanted to get accurate information out to the world in the best fashion I knew how.

I didn’t expect the response. Hundreds of people viewed my Periscopes regularly. I got questions from people as far away as Massachusetts asking about certain structures, expressions of concern and heartbreak, and questions on how to help. This is because Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Sevier County are more than just places to people locally. They are areas full of memories for people nationwide.

Eventually certain people took notice, and this project was thrown together as quickly as possible to get the true story of the Gatlinburg fires out to the world.

What “true story” are you telling? 

The national press treated this fire like a puff piece. No one outside this area understands the impact this will have on the region because even local outlets aren’t telling the complete story.

There have been reports the Red Cross is turning away relief efforts. This is incorrect.

The body count reported every day has been more than what anyone reported.

More importantly, no one’s been talking about how a community came together from day one to say “What can we do to help?” A local radio show host got a call from a guy who lost his home in the fire. This guy called in while sitting in his van in a west Knoxville Wal-Mart parking lot asking for a place to just park for the night so he wouldn’t get hassled. The radio host kept him on hold and opened up the contest line to people who could help. Within minutes the contest line was jammed.

We aren’t just going to the scene to tell you about the disaster. We’re telling you the stories of the everyday men and women who made the relief efforts possible. We’re talking to those who organized benefits at a moment’s notice. This is the story of a community that rebuilds because it knew no one else gave a damn.

We’re going to show those of you nationally how you can help too.

Where can we see this?

Follow Scooter Downey on Periscope. Follow me on Periscope. You’ll see everything we see if you follow @clsesq and @TrueLegendFilms in real time.

Are you doing anything grey or illegal? 

I’m a lawyer with responsibilities to my family. We are doing nothing grey or illegal to get this story out.

Why do you care so much? You weren’t directly affected.

I didn’t lose anything tangibly. However I have friends who lost everything. Others who volunteered their time, energy, and efforts without asking or being asked. Their stories need to be told.

What pissed me off is when people started making light of this as if it were a political issue or a reason to advance their own personal agenda. Michael Ian Black, a famous comedian, twitted a joke making light of this disaster. Other psychotic nutjobs gleefully mocked the deaths of “trumptrash” while attempting to mourn the deaths and loss of those who voted for their chosen political candidate.

This isn’t about Trump, Hillary, Obama, Black Lives Matter, ISIS, or any cause you want to smear or advance. This is about a disaster created by a historic drought, a lack of preparation for something this catastrophic, and a community that came together while the world around them still burned.

Oh shit. This actually sounds like something we need to help. What can we do?

1. Follow @clsesq and @TrueLegendFilms on Twitter to catch the Periscopes we bring you.

2. If you can chip in $10, text REDCROSS to 90999. That gives the Red Cross $10 to direct in any areas they need. They’re running the shelters, so they will appreciate the help.

3. Another confirmed outlet is Dolly Parton’s “My People Fund.” You can donate some coin there to an incredible relief effort. Dolly Parton set up this fund to provide families in the region who lost their homes in the fire $1000 per month for six months. Given the number of residences lost that goal will be a high bar to hit, but we’re going to see it happen.

4. Go to the region and have fun. See a show. Visit Dollywood. Support local businesses if you can. The economic impact is going to be huge as this area thrives on tourism, so every business needs support.

We’re about to embark on a wild ride. Hope you follow us.

Gatlinburg is Burning, And You Can Help

Gatlinburg, a Northeast Tennessee tourist destination, is burning. No one is discussing the severity of this outside the local news media, and they’re not doing much. Here’s the best information you’ll find on the subject in one spot. As I get information that is verified, I will update this post.

1. How did the fire get started? 

Before Gatlinburg caught fire, approximately sixteen thousand acres of forestry were caught up in wildfires. This was due to a combination of arson and a severe drought in the region. We’ve not had a good rain in months, and that plus jackasses setting fires despite “burn bans” being issued across the region means unprecedented amounts of wildfires. We’ve had firefighters from all over the nation come help out the region, and for that we are truly grateful.

Last night (November 28, 2016) our region got some rain. It also got serious winds, ranging in the realm of 80-100 MPH gusts. This took fires already burning in the Smoky Mountains, knocking down trees and casting burning embers into the city of Gatlinburg.

Before the fires actually started wind damage to existing structures threatened people. Luke Walker, a seven foot tall pro wrestler, was a touch angry on social media that people were being seated at Bubba Gump’s while wind blew siding off the building. The best answer is a combination of wind, existing flames, and a lack of real rain caused the fire.

2. How bad did the fire get?

Really bad. Worse than you’re hearing on any major news outlet or local. When Luke Walker realized the smoke alone was enough to harm people he started running from business to business telling people to get out of Gatlinburg as quickly as possible. The tourists and business owners didn’t take him seriously, until the flames started to get out of hand, destroying several memorable structures.

Local news outlets reported as of 5 PM EST yesterday first responders were going door to door asking for a “voluntary evacuation” of Gatlinburg.  While this is not in dispute, as of publication Gatlinburg is in “mandatory evacuation.” Pigeon Forge is not, despite reports to the contrary.

The flames and smoke were enough for one eye witness to describe it as “Dante’s Inferno.” Vinnie Vineyard, a local taxi service owner, took one of his vehicles into town repeatedly evacuating people until he finally crashed around 8 AM today. He drove through flaming debris and excessive winds. During his night of evacuations he described the smoke as so thick and black you couldn’t see the headlights of the other drivers on the roads.

The fire actually spread into Pigeon Forge, potentially harming a bald eagle sanctuary in Dollywood, a local theme park. Fortunately, it didn’t get far enough to harm any animals in the park.

Another major point of concern was Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, which housed numerous aquatic creatures you can’t just pack up in a bag when you’re told to leave. Fortunately, it’s been confirmed the aquarium wasn’t harmed by the fire even though the hills around it were on fire. Marine biologists and staffers are currently tending to the animals in the aquarium and will continue to do so through the facility’s re-opening.

3. How bad was the damage?

The Gatlinburg fire destroyed numerous local landmarks and places of interest. A wedding chapel is destroyed. “Mystery Mansion” is gone. Other areas are questionable, and that’s because the fire’s been contained enough and the smoke cleared for people to actually get boots on the ground and assess damage.

Hundreds of people lost their homes. Several resorts are burnt sticks. It’s hard to give an accurate account of what is standing and what isn’t because the reports from “news” outlets are conflicting with firsthand accounts I’m getting on social media.

As of this writing, over 200 structures are confirmed destroyed. There are still structural fires being fought. Thousands are in shelters set up by the Red Cross.

Three fatalities are confirmed. No names given at this time.
There is a standing curfew in Sevier County from 6 PM to 6 AM. Emergency personnel are asking anyone to stay away from Sevier County at the moment. People may be well intentioned but it’s still an active emergency scene. Residents in the area are asked to refrain from mobile usage so emergency crews can effectively communicate.

4. Holy shit. What can I do to help? 

Glad you asked. First, the easiest thing to do is text REDCROSS to 90999. That will chip in $10 for the Red Cross so they can do what they need to help however possible.

Second, check out Friends of the Smokies. They’re doing a fundraiser right now.

If you’re looking to donate tangible goods, more to come on that. Just keep in mind the best thing to do is find a local drop off point for a major donation site and go there. Attempting to get directly to Sevier County will do you and those in need no good.

This is a disaster no one ever saw coming. It’s a punch in the gut to so many in this region. The outpouring of support is great to see, but this is just day 1.

More to come.