The Chimney 2 fire is discovered because of a car fire, and later blamed on two kids.
The origins of the Chimney 2 wildfire and how it would unfold in becoming one of the most devastating natural disasters in Tennessee State history has many conflicting anomalies that do not add up when analyzed with a critical eye. The discovery of the Chimney 2 fire has a lot of bizarre “chance” coincidences that when added together makes it seem like the National Park Service could be covering up the true sequence of events that led to this devastating wildfire. The Chimney 2 fire was eventually blamed on two juveniles, and to this day, the identity of these two juveniles remains unknown. Were the two juveniles a ruse, to protect government officials that may have set the fire as a clandestine controlled burn?
On November 23rd, 2016 at approximately 4:55 PM EST, a fire is called into park dispatch at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A 2001 Ford Focus with Georgia plates is on fire at Morton Overlook, a popular overlook on Newfound Gap Road near the North Carolina and Tennessee state border. This viewpoint is one of the parks most popular spots, and has a view of the Chimney Tops and the Sugarlands Valley. This car is parked directly in the middle of the overlook, and is completely engulfed in flames. What makes this event odd, is this car fire takes place just a few minutes before the “discovery” of the Chimney Tops fire, which would become one of the worst wildfire disasters in the history of the Southeastern United States in over 100 years.
At approximately 5:01 PM EST, six minutes after the car fire was called in to park dispatch, Great Smoky Mountains Fire Management Officer Greg Salansky would call into park dispatch stating he was going to travel up Newfound Gap Road to attend this car fire. Greg would begin his journey from the Sugarlands office complex and drive north on Newfound Gap Road towards the Tennessee and North Carolina border. In his rookie year as Fire Management Officer, Greg Salansky and his crew had spent the last few weeks engaging forest fires throughout the region, as the exceptional drought that lasted from late spring into late fall developed prime conditions for wildfire activity. At this point in time, Great Smoky Mountains National Park was under a campfire burn ban and for the most part had escaped unscathed from wildfire activity that had affected many areas of the region. That was about to change.
As Greg Salansky was in route to the car fire on Newfound Gap Road, he would claim to see a plume of smoke rising from the Chimney Tops – a popular mountainous peak, and about half the distance between the Sugarlands Office complex, and Morton Overlook where the car fire was. Greg would claim he would drive to the upper parking lot of the Chimney Tops to get a better view of the fire. What must be stated is that there were hundreds of tourists in the area at the time, as seen in Ranger Jim Canon’s Dashcam footage as he drove up to the car fire after it was called into dispatch. Currently, as of writing this article five years later, not a single photo is known to exist of a wildfire taking place on top of the Chimney Tops on November 23rd, 2016. None were taken by any NPS employees, including Greg Salansky and so far none are known to exist from any tourist. Additionally, no wildfire was reported by tourists or the public from this vicinity to park dispatch. If Greg Salansky saw this fire, then possibly other tourists driving in the vicinity saw it. Hundreds upon hundreds of pictures get taken along the popular overlooks daily, and not a shred of evidence exists on social media of a wildfire on the Chimney Tops on November 23rd, 2016. Part of that reason could be that Morton Overlook was blocked by a car fire. Or maybe there wasn’t a fire at this time, and Greg Salansky made that story up.
The first known photos taken of a fire on the Chimney Tops is on November 24th, the morning after. All we have is Greg Salansky’s word that a fire was happening in this area. No other evidence is known to exist. Even Greg Salansky, and April Deming did not take a photo of this wildfire. Their inability to take crucial evidence at a crucial time speaks volumes.
The first evidence we have of “2 Kids” is also from Greg Salansky’s account. On December 4th, 2016 he emailed his account to NPS investigator Marshall Anderson. In this email Greg Salansky describes his actions that he took while discovering the fire.
Greg Salansky claims he drove to the upper lot of the Chimney Tops parking area to get a better perspective of the fire that allegedly saw while driving along Newfound Gap Road. In his email narrative, he claims that at the exact moment he was showing April Deming the wildfire, two kids would stop by his vehicle and tell him that “matches were thrown all over the place”.
At 5:19 PM, approximately 26 minutes after the car fire was called into dispatch, Greg Salansky would again call into Park Dispatch, this time reporting that a wildfire was on the upper ridges of the Chimney Tops, and that there were matches thrown all over the place, and that he was shutting down the trail.
In a FOIA request, it was discovered that Greg Salansky and April Deming did not take any photos documenting this plume of smoke that was supposedly at the Chimney Tops. To this day, no photographic evidence is known to exist of a wildfire on top of the Chimney’s on November 23rd, 2016. The first known photos of fire on the Chimneys is on the late morning of November 24th. If there was a fire at this time, more than likely others would have photographed a fire on the Chimney Tops. Thousands of tourists were in the vicinity at that time.
Instead, Greg Salansky and April Deming went down to the Chimney Tops trail and closed it down right at sunset. They then proceeded up to the Chimney Tops as nightfall descended onto the area.
Was the car fire a diversion, to give Greg Salansky and April Deming time to set a clandestine prescribe burn on the Chimney Tops?
5 out of 6 NPS rangers working in the vicinity were occupied with the car fire on Newfound Gap Road while Greg Salansky shut down the trail, and began to walk up to the top of the Chimney Tops in the dark with Fuel Specialist April Deming. By the time the first ranger would arrive at the trailhead, darkness would have already descended on the area. Was there a fire on the Chimney’s at this point, and if so where are the accounts of individuals that were there at that point in time?
The two kids that told Greg Salansky about the matches have never appeared in the media. Their accounts are pretty important, but we’ve never seen them. Do they exist? Are these the same two kids that were arrested? Were these two kids responsible for the wildfire? There’s many questions that have yet to be answered, considering Salansky’s actions as he oversaw the Chimney 2 wildfire, and later on when the two juveniles were arrested for this very crime.
That evening Greg Salansky and April Deming would hike up to the Chimney Tops. When they got up to the upper ridges of the mountainous trail, Greg would claim in his email narrative, that April did not want to go further and decided to stay back. Instead, he went alone and climbed the summit area of the Chimney Tops. He would claim the smoke was drifting around him, and that he started questioning why he was there. He claimed he couldn’t fight the fire in the dark, so he decided to leave the area, and come back in the morning. If there was a fire, then his reasoning is quite acceptable. Climbing the Chimney Tops in the dark is definitely a high risk venture. Greg Salansky never mentioned other people in the vicinity, and more than likely the area was clear of visitors to witness anything that could have happened at this point in time. However, what if there wasn’t a fire on the Chimney Tops, and Greg used the car fire as a diversion to beat Law Enforcement to the vicinity? What if all this was a ruse to set a prescribe burn?
Greg Salansky would make the decision to leave a fire burn on the Chimney Tops at this time, and call it into dispatch around 10:00 PM. The trails leading to the Chimneys were closed in every direction, and the park would notify the Gatlinburg Police Department of the fire, and that they were letting it burn for the evening. They said they would return in the morning with a more “aggressive approach”.
The following Thanksgiving morning, November 24th, 2016, Greg Salansky would meet with Deputy Superintendent Clay Jordan, Park Information Officer Dana Soehn, and Chief Ranger Steve Kloster in an early morning meeting to discuss the wildfire on the Chimney Tops. No record has been provided on what directions were to occur with the fire at this meeting, however Salansky’s actions that day would give a clear picture to what may have been decided.
Greg Salansky would assemble a small crew of Park Service firefighters and hike back up to the top of the Chimney Tops. He would once again claim that all but one other firefighter was willing to go with him to the Chimney Tops summit area. Through, FOIA requests it was discovered the name of that National Park Service firefighter was Sarah Martinez. As Sarah Martinez and Greg Salansky climbed back up the Chimneys. Greg would claim he found matches along a portion of the Chimney Tops ledges. He would then take out his cell phone for the first time and document the matches on the ground. Greg would text Chief Park Ranger Steve Kloster that he found “a few wooden matches” and that he wasn’t sure that rangers would want to send someone to investigate because he claimed the terrain was too steep. A request that was somewhat odd, considering hundreds of tourists climb this area every day.
Greg would then proceed to tamper the crime scene by gathering the matches into a little bag. This would put his DNA on the matches. Then he proceeds to hike back down the Chimney Tops, while leaving the wildfire burn for another night. Greg Salansky would snap one photo at the bottom of the trail, showing the Chimneys Tops Smoldering in smoke and for the second day in a row, Greg Salansky took no aggressive actions towards extinguishing this fire, and would once again leave this fire burn.
What are the odds that the parks fire management officer would be the one to not only discover, but be the one to call in the Chimney 2 fire in a park as crowded as the Great Smoky Mountains? What are the odds that thousands of tourists driving the roads did not witness, nor call in the Chimney 2 fire if one existed from at least 4:55 PM until sunset? There’s no evidence of tourists calling in the Chimney 2 fire on dispatch records on November 23rd. There’s no photographic evidence from any tourist, nor does evidence exist on social media, nor did the NPS provide any evidence when we requested photographic evidence of a fire on the Chimney Tops on November 23rd, 2016. Only Greg Salansky reported the fire. Even he did not take a photo of it. We only have his word, and April Demings acknowledgement that a fire existed on the Chimney Tops that evening.
What are the odds that two kids, would tell this same fire management officer right as he was discovering the fire that matches were supposedly thrown all over the place, and Greg would report that as “fact” to Park Dispatch. The next morning Greg Salansky would collect matches from the top of the Chimney Tops tampering the “crime scene” and turning a bag of matches with his DNA all over them into the rangers.
At first Greg Salansky took an aggressive approach and concern about this new fire on the Chimney Tops, only to pull back on fighting it aggressively by leaving it burn without any suppression efforts for multiple days. Why would he leave the Chimney Tops burn in an extreme drought? Again, could this have been a prescribe burn gone wrong?
Greg Salansky would treat this fire like a prescribe burn for 5 days, until high winds blew it into an inferno. Greg Salansky, along with Chief Ranger Steve Kloster, and Acting Superintendent Clay Jordan would take a non aggressive approach in exceptional drought conditions during a season when high mountain wave winds are typical as cold and low pressure fronts constantly bombard the highest mountain ridges east of the Rockies during late fall and early winter. Already, throughout the region wildfires were menacing their way through communities. For weeks hundreds of wildfires burned throughout the region, and some saw rapid expansion in high wind events. To leave a fire burn in these conditions was against Park Service protocol, but the management took very little heed in following procedures from the start.
An Atmospheric River Event Collides with a Smoky Mountain Wildfire
What happens when a wildfire within Great Smoky Mountains National Park collides with an atmospheric river event that is being pulled directly north by the jet stream from the Gulf of Mexico?
By 6:00 PM EST on November 28th, 2016 a low pressure system from the Gulf of Mexico would begin to break down the high pressure dome that sat over the region for months, creating one of the worst droughts in East Tennessee’s documented history. During November of 2016, the region descended into an exceptional drought. Wildfires began burning throughout multiple states leading to one of the worst wildfire seasons in the history of the Southeastern United States. Over 800 wildfires broke out from Florida to West Virginia, and many were started by arsonists. The Chimney 2 fire was another fire started by man, and would have devastating consequences.
The atmospheric river event that would bring much needed moisture to the Great Smoky Mountains region would arrive on Monday November 28th, 2016 and last into the following Tuesday. This system would bring inches of rain to a parched landscape. Unfortunately, before this moisture would drench the drought stricken environment, the area would receive a high wind front of hurricane force winds to the mountainous areas of Sevier County, Tennessee. This wind event would wreak havoc on the Chimney 2 wildfire that had been left to burn by the Park Service for over 5 days. In many areas of the country, the exceptional drought, combined with high winds would be a recipe for alarm and the area would be placed under red flag conditions. But, few warnings were given to the residents of Sevier County until it was too late.
The winds arrived about 12 hours earlier than expected. Starting on the night of Sunday November 27th, and lasting until early morning of November 29th, winds clocked at 87 mph hit the area. During this high wind event, the wildfire hopped from ridgeline to ridgeline as mountain wave winds carried embers into new areas that started new forest fires. Surrounding mountain sides, and especially the drier south facing slopes would go up in flames, as the high winds drove the fire beyond the Gatlinburg city limits.
For decades, the urban interface surrounding Gatlinburg was neglected for catastrophic wildfire. This area was primed for a wildfire catastrophe, as dry overgrown pine forests, with a steady understory of rhododendron, mixed in with the urban interface. Large wooden cabins and power lines dotted the landscape. This would fuel the inferno as it jumped from hillside to hillside. As the fire burned out of control, so did a lot of of the urban interface around Gatlinburg, TN. Adding fuel to the wind driven inferno; propane tanks exploded in the heat, live power lines went down in the high winds which sparked new fires, and the sheer energy of combustible materials found in many modern day homes all played a role in advancing the wildfire at a rate of a football field every 2 seconds. By the end of the night, the fire would expand from 500 acres to 17,000 acres, with a lot of that terrain going up in a few hours time. 2600 properties were burned, and at least 14 people lost their lives.
By 10:00 PM on November 28th, 2016 the first wave of rain would hit the area from the atmospheric river event. This rain event would provide a significant amount of moisture to slow the advance of the wildfire. The rain system lasted only about 15 minutes, and the fire would still burn until around 2:00 am on November 29th when a steady amount of rain would begin to fall on the area as the atmospheric river event began to be pulled north from the jet stream. This rain event provided much needed relief to the drought conditions and doused a majority of the fire activity throughout the region.
They Prayed for Rain
Under the watch of fire management officer, Greg Salansky the Chimney 2 fire was left to burn under exceptional drought conditions from November 23rd, until it burned out of control and into the town of Gatlinburg on November 28th, 2016. For 5 days, the Chimney Tops was left to burn under his watch. Air Tankers could have extinguished this fire on November 24th, 25th, or 26th, instead Park Management under the discretion of Clay Jordan, Steve Kloster, and Greg Salansky decided to leave it burn. With exceptional drought conditions in the area, NPS fire management protocol would have instructed a more aggressive approach to put out the wildfire, instead they ignored these protocols. Their gamble cost lives, properties, and livelihoods to abruptly change as a high wind system blew the Chimney 2 fire into a 17,000 acre conflagration. Complete hillsides of Southern Pine forests adapted to wildfire went up in minutes. With it 2600 properties were lost around the town of Gatlinburg, and 14 lives were lost. There was no warning to a majority of the Gatlinburg residents that were left scrambling to evacuate while the fire raced into town.
For 5 days, Sevier County had a wildfire in within their county line. And for 5 days, there was little warning or even notice sent to the public alerting them of any danger that this wildfire might pose to the outlaying towns and communities. City, County, State, and even Federal officials all failed in properly alerting residents, and tourists of the danger that the wildfire posed.
On November 27th, at 7:29 AM EST the National Weather Service in Morristown, TN would issue a high wind warning for the Smoky Mountain Region from Monday afternoon through Tuesday Morning. This high wind warning meant that in the exceptional drought conditions fire spread was practically imminent. In many areas of the country, red flag conditions would have been issued. However, during this time frame, none were issued for Eastern Tennessee which was already experiencing one of its worst wildfire seasons on record.
From around 5:30 PM EST until 11:00 PM EST the town of Gatlinburg and the outlaying areas of Sevier County experienced a literal hell on Earth as a heavy wind system blew the wildfire to over 17,000 acres in a few hours time. During this time period, the fire advanced so rapidly that many had to flee the inferno along dangerous windy mountain roads. Cabins upon cabins went up along pine forested ridge lines. Tourists and residents were left fleeing the flames as it rapidly swept onto their doorstep. Many died and many were injured, and they were given little to any warning by the government that a catastrophe like this could happen.
While the catastrophe happened, the local government spent their resources protecting empty structures of well connected local families, leaving many areas to burn throughout the area. Structure safety took precedence over life safety, while they waited for the heavy rains to douse the wildfire activity. By November 29th, over half the properties in the Gatlinburg city limits were reduced to ashes. At least 14 people lost their lives, and many were left wondering why they weren’t evacuated earlier in the day.
They blamed it on 2 kids, only to later drop the charges.
When two juveniles were arrested for allegedly starting a fire on the Chimney Tops in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a gag order was put in place that provided City, State, County, and Federal employees a reprieve from having their actions in fighting the Chimney 2 fire from being placed under a microscope. If the fire was started by 2 adults, instead of two juveniles the release of public records would have been almost immediate. Instead, the gag order became a tool used by government officials to lock down public information, keeping the public from critical information that would have exposed if government officials may have committed crimes, or were negligent of their duties as the Chimney 2 fire swept into town and killed 14 people. So what was the government trying to hide? And why was Jimmy Dunn tossed out as prosecutor when it was determined this case was outside of his jurisdiction?
Under the gag order, District Attorney of the 4th district Gerald “Jimmy” Dunn had tightened the screws on allowing public information related to the Chimney 2 wildfire disaster from reaching the public. Because the fire was allegedly set by “2 juveniles” prosecutor, Jimmy Dunn claimed the laws granted to him under juvenile proceedings in the state of Tennessee gave him the authority to place a gag order on critical public information that could play a key role in analyzing the public officials mistakes in their response to the wildfire.
The 911 calls from Gatlinburg residents inquiring to Gatlinburg Police Department about the status of the wildfire burning towards town? Locked under the “gag order.” Police dashcam footage showing Gatlinburg’s fire department watering down empty buildings in the downtown core while residents lives were in jeopardy throughout the city limits as the wildfire swept through. Locked under the “gag order”. Emails, texts, and conversations between Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s Fire Management officer Greg Salansky with NPS Managers providing insight in how they managed the fire. Locked under Jimmy Dunn’s “Gag Order”.
For over 8 long months, the gag order reared it’s ugly head and was extremely harsh to many that lost homes, and businesses. It was even harsher to the families of the 14 dead. Many of those that survived the wildfire wanted answers to why they were given little to any warning about the threat the wildfire posed to the community. A lot of that information was locked under Jimmy Dunn’s “gag order”. It gave the city, county, state, and federal officials reprieve from answering questions about their mismanagement of this wildfire disaster. To the public officials, they seemed to cherish that two juveniles, instead of two adults were responsible for the wildfire. The gag order was used as an excuse to cover for their actions and misdeeds taken on November 28th, 2016. So, with the gag order in place, the public would receive no answers from the public officials responsible for managing the wildfire.
The wildfire was left to burn for over 5 days under the watch of Great Smoky Mountains National Park Fire Management Officer Greg Salansky. He, along with other NPS managers blatantly disregarded fire management protocols, and let the arson fire burn from November 23rd into November 28th. Then a high wind event would blow it into an inferno that would blow it into and past the city limits of Gatlinburg. Many in the outskirts of Gatlinburg were unaware of the dangers these fires posed to life and property. No red flag warning were ever issued for the area, and Sevier County EMA never issued an alert to the public on the threat the wildfire posed to the area. In fact, most were left unaware the fire posed until wildfire swept onto people’s doorsteps.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Chief Ranger Steve Kloster was made aware that a wildfire was burning in the park on November 23rd, 2016 moments after it was discovered. Steve Kloster was part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Fire Management Committee, and as Chief Ranger he would work in conjunction with Fire Management Officer Greg Salansky in the management of wildfires within the park. Since the very beginning, Chief Kloster and Greg Salansky texted one another giving each other status updates about the wildfire on the Chimney Tops. Park Superintendent Cassius Cash was on vacation for Thanksgiving weekend, and Deputy Superintendent Clay Jordan, by park management protocol was in charge of managing the park as acting Superintendent. Starting on November 23rd, Clay Jordan as acting Superintendent was in charge in the oversight of the Chimney 2 fire from it’s very beginning. Clay Jordan would meet with Fire Management Officer Greg Salansky, Chief Ranger Steve Kloster, and Dana Soehn on Thanksgiving morning to discuss their management of the wildfire that was now burning on the Chimney Tops. While details on what fire management procedures would be initiated at this meeting, Greg Salansky’s actions that day speaks volumes that they were just going to leave it continue to burn. After the meeting, Greg Salansky would gather a small crew and head up to the Chimney Tops. He would claim because of the steepness of the terrain, only he and one other ventured up to the top of the Chimneys. Greg would get to the base of the Chimney’s at which point he took out his cell phone and started gathering matches on the ground into a plastic baggie. Taking pictures of the matches. Were these the infamous matches of the two kids? Or did Greg Salansky plant these and gather them up? That to this day is unknown. It’s odd that Greg Salansky would block letting rangers do the investigation, because he would claim the terrain was too steep. Somehow the area is trekked by 10’s of thousands of visitors every year. The terrain he was on was also the ledge to the backside of the Chimneys, which is just a mere walkup, and involves no physical climbing. A ranger could have done the investigation, but Greg tried to hold that up. Greg Salansky then proceeded to take the matches back down the trailhead and hand them to law enforcement. He would then look up, snap another picture of the fire now on the Chimneys, and go home for thanksgiving leaving the Chimney Tops to burn. The trail to the Chimney Tops mountain was now closed off in multiple directions, so the boundary was secure with notices of the fire posted at all the trailheads. So, the question is was this a prescribe burn gone wrong?
The City of Gatlinburg and Sevier county were unprepared as the fire swarmed in and caused residents to flee in the panic as wildfire made it directly to their doorsteps. Only two highways lead out of Gatlinburg, one that heads towards Cosby, Tennessee, and the Gatlinburg Parkway which many tourists use to get in to Pigeon Forge. The route to Pigeon Forge would become blocked by downed trees as a wildfire rapidly expanded in that area.
The shellshock was immediate. Residents quickly demanded why they weren’t warned about the firestorm until it was too late. And this was when the government got …well, odd. Quickly, things went into coverup mode with the Park Service failing to acknowledge a media request to release the dispatch records on November 23rd, 2016 during the start of the fire. If the records were released on time, do you think Salansky and April Deming would have been a suspect? Instead, it was hidden under a gag order that was unlawful in nature, and heinous in intent. Blamed on two kids, that may not even exist.
A National Park Service tipline headlined by Chief Ranger Steve Kloster went out to the media.. Steve Kloster would be part of the investigation into who set the arson fire on the Chimney Tops. Kloster was in the loop since the fire began, part of the management committee responsible for managing this fire that burned out of control. Interestingly, the ATF was also called in for the investigation. And the end result? Two kids arrested. A case involving Juveniles that gets placed out of federal jurisdiction by handing it over to District Attorney James Dunn. Interesting to note, that the reason it was given to Jimmy Dunn was from a forged document that would give Jimmy Dunn prosocution. When it was discovered that Jimmy Dunn technically did not have jurisdiction to oversee the case, Jimmy Dunn, scurried away from the table, dropping the case against the Junveniles and has since remained silent on his role in this case. This was a case where James Dunn would place the gag order that resulted in public records from being gathered from this event. And it begged the question, what was the government trying to hide? Was it a prescribe burn gone wrong, set in a criminal manner, and left to burn. Jimmy Dunn gave them enough time to bide their time. Surely, if that was the case, the Government would be negligent in the deaths and destruction. So, they needed their coverup. Blame it on two patsies that don’t actually exist, and brush it all under the rug through a kangaroo Juvenile court case that was all an act. And so, the question begs, did the National Park Service commit clandestine arson on the Chimney Tops as an experimental prescribe burn, keeping the public out of the loop and blaming it on two kids, that more than likely don’t exist and are just the imaginary friends of Jimmy Dunn and Defense Attorney Greg Issacs?