November 28, 2016 I was live streaming a news conference with an update on wildfires in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park when I heard the fire chief announce the very first evacuations in Gatlinburg.
We didn’t know this at the time, but the emergency alerts for the city did not go out. I was able to jump into action, sending push alerts, updating social media and live streaming coverage to make sure residents received the critical information they needed about shelters and evacuations.
For the next 48 hours we had multiple live streams on Facebook, our website and apps. Our first live stream after evacuations were announced reached over 12 million people on Facebook alone.
Throughout our coverage, I was able to harness social media to get video, photos and information from people that were literally surrounded by fire. Here are a couple of the stories I put together:
- ‘Fire everywhere,’ guests trapped inside Gatlinburg Park Vista hotel
- VIDEO: Westgate Resort damaged by Gatlinburg fires
- Gatlinburg cabin owner watches homes burn to ground from surveillance camera
- Intense video shows Gatlinburg fires from frontlines
After the worst of the fires were extinguished, my team’s focus switched to letting people know how their homes and businesses were after the fire.
Using photos we received from social media and crews in the field, I put together a custom Google map that actually logged fire damage locations. For more than a week after the fire people were not allowed back into the city, so many of them used my map to see if their home was still standing.
I also created several “snackable” videos using photos and videos. This is one I produced and edited that reached more than 10 million people:
After the fire, I also put together several stories to compliment news coverage.