Cohen Milstein’s Theodore J. Leopold, Adam J. Langino and Poorad Razavi are representing plaintiffs in a wrongful death and property damage case against the United Sates of America for National Park Service (NPS) employees neglecting to perform their duties during The Chimney Tops 2 Fire in Tennessee, which originated in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and damaged and destroyed 2,500 homes, buildings and other structures, along with their contents, and ultimately resulting in 16 deaths.

Case Background

On November 23, 2016, Fire Management Officer, Greg Salansky, for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park discovered a fire that was reported to less than a single acre in size near the Peak of Chimney Tops, about 5.5 miles from Gatlinburg, TN. While Salansky and other Park officials believed the fire would be controlled inside the Park, the 80 years of built-up ground fuels, months of severe drought conditions and a National Weather Service forecast of high-winds foretold a substantial change in The Chimney Tops 2 Fire’s behavior.

Plaintiffs claim that the conditions, especially the high-wind forecast, should have served as “a call-to-action” for Park officials. But Salansky, who had taken complete and unfettered command-control of The Chimney Tops 2 Fire, issued a “prescribed” burn, letting it burn inside a poorly designed and negligently implemented 410-acre “containment box.”

On November 28, 2016, The Chimney Tops 2 Fire grew in size and strength, breached the Park’s boundaries, and near-hurricane force winds carried it into Gatlinburg. In a matter of hours, the fire had swollen from 70 acres to 17,000 acres, damaging and destroying more than 2,500 homes, buildings and other structures, along with their contents, and ultimately resulting in 16 deaths.

Plaintiffs further allege that the wrongful deaths, personal injuries and property damage were the direct, natural, and probable result of the negligent acts and/or omissions of the NPS employees who acted in direct violation of established NPS fire-management policies, negligent failure to prioritize the safety of citizens and their properties, and negligent failure to notify and/or warn Park neighbors, local residents, and visitors, including the Plaintiffs and decedents, of the imminent, dangerous, and deadly threats posed by The Chimney Tops 2 Fire.

Plaintiffs bring the case under the Federal Tort Claims Act.

The case name is: Reed, et al. v U.S.A, Case No. 3:18-cv-00201-JRG-CRW (E.D. Tenn.)