Saturday, December 3, 2016

The massive fire that burned down a $2 million Hall County, Georgia mansion started in the home's fireplace

Fire Captain: Mansion fire started in fireplace

Fireplace believed to be mansion fire origin
Tim Darnell and Julie Wolfe, WXIA 5:56 PM. EST November 29, 2016 

HALL COUNTY, Ga – Firefighters believe the blaze that burned down a $2 million Hall County mansion started in the home's fireplace.

Capt. Bobby Ogletree said the cause is still under investigation, but they've been able to track the origin to that part of the 10,00 square-foot home.

The Hall County fire department faced a series of water issues when they arrived at the home on Shoreline Drive around 7:40 pm Monday night.

A fire department spokesperson said fire engines and tankers had to travel to a fire hydrant 1/2 to 3/4 miles from the driveway of the residence. They filled a drop tank with eater and then transported it to the burning home, which was an additional 500 yards off the roadway.

"Given the distance between the fire hydrant and the top of driveway as well as the distance between the top of the driveway and the residence, this is the most efficient way to provide a water supply to this fire. 

Only water taken from a fire hydrant was utilized during this incident," Fire Capt. Zachary Brackett said. The mansion is a total loss, but there were no injuries reported

At least nine people are confirmed dead in a fire overnight at a warehouse in Oakland, California, where a party was taking place when the blaze broke out

At Least 9 Dead, 13 Unaccounted For in Fire at Oakland Warehouse

By Morgan Winsor Dec 3, 2016, 12:29 PM ET

At least nine people are confirmed dead in a fire overnight at a warehouse in Oakland, California, where a party was taking place when the blaze broke out, authorities said.

The Oakland Fire Department responded to reports of a structure fire on 31st Avenue at around 11:32 p.m. on Friday night. Most of the bodies were found on the warehouse's second floor, which was only accessible by a makeshift stairwell assembled with various materials, according to Oakland Fire Chief Teresa Deloach Reed.

ESRI/APSan Francisco Bay Area authorities say a fire has broken out at an Oakland warehouse, Dec. 2, 2016 in Oakland, California.

Reed said the warehouse appears to be a work and residential building that hosts a makeshift artists' studio. It's unclear if the building is equipped with smoke alarms, the fire chief added.

Aside from those confirmed dead, at least 13 others are unaccounted for and more fatalities are expected. A thorough search of the building is still underway, authorities said.

Josh Edelson/AP PhotoFirefighters assess the scene where a fire tore through a warehouse party, Dec. 3, 2016 in Oakland, California.

Oakland police Officer G. Plasencia told The Associated Press that firefighters were still on the scene as of early Saturday morning. Footage from the scene shared on Twitter showed the building engulfed in flames as plumes of thick, black smoke billowed into the night sky

The order to evacuate Gatlinburg, TN amid Monday night's deadly firestorm was not sent to mobile devices in the area.

NWS: Gatlinburg fire evacuation alert not sent to mobile
Hayes Hickman ,

December 2, 2016

Local, state and federal officials confirmed that the order to evacuate Gatlinburg amid Monday night's deadly firestorm was not sent to mobile devices in the area.

The reason for the failure, however, remains unclear.

John Mathews, director of the Sevier County Emergency Management Agency, said at a news conference Friday morning it was his understanding that an evacuation alert had been sent to mobile devices.

"If people did not receive the message we sent out, of course we are unsatisfied with it," Mathews said in response to pointed questions.

The citywide evacuation was broadcast only on area TV and radio. And when it came — at 9:04 p.m. according to Tennessee Emergency Management Agency records - it was several hours after the flames had swept into Gatlinburg.

Mathews said he had relayed to TEMA Gatlinburg city officials' decision to evacuate as flames began to overrun the tourism mecca. TEMA spokesman Dean Flener previously said records show the Sevier County EMA had asked the National Weather Service office in Morristown to announce the evacuation.

"I did not call National Weather Service -- I called TEMA," Mathews told the News Sentinel on Friday.

And as far as Matthews understood, he said, TEMA fulfilled the request.

A TEMA representative was among 60-some officials inside a local command post at the Gatlinburg Fire Department the night of the firestorm. Given the stress created by the fast-moving flames, though, Mathews admitted he doesn't remember specifically to whom or how he communicated the request.

"It got so bad we had to leave the command post ... we had to evacuate ourselves," Matthews said, adding that the command staff was forced to relocate to a nearby community center.

Anthony Cavallucci, NWS-Morristown's warning coordination manager, confirmed that his office issued an Emergency Alert System message announcing the evacuation shortly after 9 p.m. That alert was broadcast via TV, radio and weather radio through the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System, or IPAWS.

Various agencies, such as TEMA and the National Weather Service, are authorized to issue alerts through IPAWS, which can broadcast the messages on TV and radio, as well as send wireless text alerts to all mobile devices in a given area during an emergency.

But depending on the nature of the alert, different agencies have different levels of IPAWS access.

The National Weather Service, for instance, only can send wireless text alerts specific to weather-related events, such as tornado or flash flood warnings, Cavallucci said.

The NWS, however, is not equipped to send wireless alerts to mobile devices for civil emergencies, including calling for evacuations, he explained.

Cavallucci said his office had been in ongoing communication throughout Monday with the Sevier County E-911 dispatch center, relaying updated wind and weather forecasts.

"911 was acting as kind of a relay among (Sevier County) EMA, Gatlinburg Fire Department and us," he explained Friday.

The weather service office contacted E-911 dispatch about 8:45 p.m. that night, asking if there was any message NWS could communicate to the public, and NWS officials were asked to relay the evacuation order.

"(E-911) told us they wanted the message sent and they told us what they wanted us to put in the message," Cavallucci said. "Once that was communicated to us and typed into our system ... it was sent out through the Emergency Alert System to TV, radio and weather radio."

Who E-911 dispatchers were relaying the request from isn't clear.

Further complicating matters, Flener said the National Weather Service alert still may have reached certain mobile devices that are equipped to receive weather alerts.

"If you were in Sevier County and you have a (newer) phone with the technology to receive those weather alerts, or an app enabled on your phone to receive National Weather Service alerts, you would have received the evacuation message -- unless the cellphone tower in your area was damaged or destroyed," the TEMA official said.

Meanwhile, TEMA was able to use its access to IPAWS to send a wireless message to mobile devices at 10:40 p.m. on behalf of the Sevier County Emergency Management Agency, but only to warn the public to stay off the mobile phones unless it was an emergency.

None of the evacuees interviewed by the News Sentinel as of Friday said they had received a text alert announcing the evacuation, although some said they were notified by police officers who went door to door.

Jeff Carter, a maintenance worker at Brookside Resort and Event Center, said he didn't receive any notification. He went to sleep at 7 p.m. Monday, and woke at midnight to flames erupting near his apartment.

"No text alerts, not anything," he said. "And you get Amber alerts on the phone."

Others were critical of city officials' timing altogether.

Deborah Morrison, who was visiting Gatlinburg from Middle Tennessee, said she called ahead to her hotel Monday and was told it still was OK to come. Shortly after she checked in, though, hotel staff told her to evacuate.

"It reminds me of 'Jaws' where they knew about that shark, but they didn't tell people because of the money." -- Deborah Morrison

Gatlinburg visitor Ed Carnes received the text alert warning him to stay off his phone as he and his wife sat stranded in a line of cars blocked by a fallen tree on a winding mountain road above town, surrounded by thick smoke and flames.

Carnes, a U.S. Appeals Court judge from Montgomery, Ala., knew about the wildfire burning nearby in the Chimney Tops area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, he said. And he only learned about a voluntary evacuation urged for people in the Mynatt Park area across town while watching a TV newscast earlier that night.

But he said he never got word of the mandatory evacuation order issued for Gatlinburg before his wife opened the drapes of their condo at Highland Condominium Rentals and screamed.

"There was a wall of fire outside the condominium," Carnes said.

"Tennessee obviously has a system to send an alert to me — and I'm from out of state. ... No criticism of the folks up there, but in the future, if they've got the technology they need to put the alerts, voluntary or mandatory, on the (wireless) alert system."

Ed Carnes, of Montgomery, Ala., was surrounded by thick smoke and burning embers when he and his wife became stranded in their car along Campbell Lead Road during the Gatlinburg firestorm Monday night. (Photo: Submitted)

Flener said a wireless text wasn't the best means of announcing the evacuation anyway, due to the constraints of IPAWS, which limits the messages to 90 characters.

"You cannot just tell them (to evacuate.) You have to tell them what to do," Flener said. "People will panic more and you will get people in dangerous situations because you have not told them more.

The broadcast evacuation alert that was sent specified, "The city of Gatlinburg and nearby communities are being evacuated immediately. Nobody is allowed into the city of Gatlinburg at the time. If you are currently in Gatlinburg and are able to evacuate, evacuate immediately and follow any instructions from emergency officials. If you are not instructed to evacuate, please stay off the roads."

Richard T. Ramsey and Sue Ramsey hold hands while looking at the skyline from the remains of their house of 41 years, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016, in Gatlinburg, Tenn. They safely evacuated from their home as fire approached Monday evening. Andrew Nelles / The Tennessean
Richard T. Ramsey and Sue Ramsey hold hands while looking at the skyline from the remains of their house of 41 years, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016, in Gatlinburg, Tenn. They safely evacuated from their home as fire approached Monday evening. Andrew Nelles / The Tennessean

Carnes said he and several others sheltered in their vehicles along Campbell Lead Road until about 7:30 a.m. Tuesday when emergency crews cleared the downed trees. He credited their survival to rain that fell during the night. The Highland Condominiums, owned by Gatlinburg Mayor Mike Werner, were among more than 1,000 structures in Sevier County destroyed by the fire.

The wildfire, which killed at least 13 people, has been described by emergency officials as a "perfect storm" that grew exponentially in a rare mix of low humidity, drought conditions and erratic winds that suddenly doubled in speed to produce hurricane-force gusts up to 87 mph.

The blaze initially was reported as a 3-acre fire near the summit of the Chimney Tops on Nov. 23.

By midday Monday, Great Smoky Mountains National Park spokeswoman Dana Soehn said the fire had grown to approximately 500 acres, crossing Newfound Gap Road into the Twin Creek area on the flanks of Mount LeConte.

The flames had yet to pose a danger to any park structures or areas outside the park boundaries as federal, state and local firefighters began converging on the area. Soehn noted that wind gusts up to 85 mph were possible throughout the rest of the day.

"We sent out an alert to all of our local communities, particularly the Gatlinburg community, so they're well aware of any potential threats that could come to structures and facilities on the park boundary," Soehn said during a Monday news briefing on the lawn outside park headquarters.

By Monday afternoon, the city was recommending people leave the Mynatt Park area, according to TEMA logs. Around 5 p.m., city officials issued a news release assuring that no structures had caught fire within Gatlinburg.

Then, within the hour, the winds picked up tremendously, blowing flames and embers into town and bringing down power lines, which in turn ignited more spot fires.

"We went from nothing to over 20-plus structure fires in a matter of minutes, and that grew and that grew and that grew," Gatlinburg Fire Chief Greg Miller said during a Thursday morning news conference.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent Cassius Cash said park personnel had been working with city officials

"I don't have the jurisdiction to evacuate a town," Cash said during a Friday news conference. "We work collectively and that's exactly what we did on Monday, working with the city manager, myself, the fire chief, saying, 'OK, this is within a certain proximity; it is prudent for us now to start thinking about what would be ... "

Cash was interrupted by a reporter during the news conference, which was then cut short by Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters.

Waters said a full evaluation of the decision-making process would be made in due time.

"What we're getting into is folks who don't know this area and are Monday morning quarterbacking," Waters said. "We're not going to get into Monday morning quarterbacking right now."

Patrol officers quickly were told to spread the evacuation order door to door.

"It was so quick that when it started it was bam, bam, bam," Gatlinburg Police Chief Randy Brackins said. "It started with boots on the ground."

Brandi Lamb, who was living with her husband at the Rainbow Motel on East Parkway, said a police officer drove by warning people to leave on the loudspeaker of his patrol cruiser.

The city of Gatlinburg's Twitter feed announced mandatory evacuations for the Ski Mountain, Savage Gardens, East Foothills Road, Turkey and Davenport areas at 8:17 p.m. Another tweet was posted at 9:12 p.m. adding downtown Gatlinburg and areas along the Spur toward Pigeon Forge to the list.