City unveils tribute to helpers worldwide who came to its aid in November 2016.
PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. —Three weeks prior to the one-year anniversary of the historic wildfires that struck Great Smoky Mountains National Park and this East Tennessee community, the city of Pigeon Forge reunited, for the first time, first responders from 39 of the 64 fire stations who came to the city’s aid on Nov. 28, 2016.
City officials invited more than 300 first responders to a surprise ceremony on Tuesday evening, Nov. 7, to unveil a permanent tribute wall as a lasting symbol of the town’s gratitude and appreciation for their efforts. In addition to the first responders, the tribute wall is dedicated to those who came to the city’s aid. While the first responders battled the blaze, donations poured into Pigeon Forge from across the country, including food, bottled water, and clothing as well as assistance from individuals who volunteered countless hours. Donations continued in the weeks that followed.
First responders spent the afternoon before the dedication ceremony enjoying lunch in the apparatus bay of the Pigeon Forge Fire Department. Over Southern favorites of fried chicken, chicken and dumplings, green beans, cornbread and sweet tea, first responders reminisced about their roles on that November day. The fire hall received an unprecedented number of food donations in the days and weeks immediately following Nov. 28. From individuals who prepared meals in their home kitchens to restaurants throughout East Tennessee, an endless supply of meals, snacks, beverages and other items, along with volunteers to serve them, kept first responders nourished.
Entitled “For Those Who Answered The Call,” the tribute wall anchors the city’s Patriot Park and features original artwork by Nashville-based designer Josh Ford. Iconic representations of Pigeon Forge, the Great Smoky Mountains and first responders are etched into the 4,400-pound 10-foot by 10-foot stainless steel wall inside a heart, a symbol of the community, its residents and the more than 10 million visitors who travel to the vacation destination each year. The opposite side lists various local, state and national agencies, organizations and businesses that supported the community during the event. Included among the entries is entertainment legend Dolly Parton, who spearheaded a telethon that raised more than $9 million to aid those affected by the fire.
The November 2016 wildfires burned a total of 17,140 acres in Sevier County (Tenn.) The wildfires originated from multiple locations including an arson fire set at Chimney Tops inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park and from downed power line ignitions throughout the county. Fueled by extreme winds and dry weather, the fire storm resulted in 14 fatalities, 190 injured individuals, damage to approximately 2,500 structures, and an estimated $500 million in damage.
Photo credit: Steven Bridges for the Pigeon Forge Dept. of Tourism
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