Massive fire kills 1, destroys several businesses in downtown Gatlinburg – WBIR.com


The Seiver County Medical Examiner’s office identified the man as 54-year-old Joe Martin Bates, according to the City of Gatlinburg.

GATLINBURG, Tenn. — The Gatlinburg Fire Department confirmed one person died in a massive fire that broke out at a block of businesses along the Parkway on Sunday.

On Monday morning, the city said a person’s body was found inside the damaged structure Sunday as crews worked to suppress the fire. 

The Seiver County Medical Examiner’s office identified the man as 54-year-old Joe Martin Bates, according to the City of Gatlinburg.

Fire crews were dispatched to a structure fire around 6:30 a.m. on Sunday. The Pigeon Forge Fire Department was also on the scene.

As of Monday morning, crews continued to monitor and fight hot spots that reignited. Parts of the block that housed China Bazaar, Puckers Sports Grill, Cafe 420 and Gifts of Gatlinburg were demolished with nothing more than charred debris remaining.

On Tuesday, city officials said the cause of the fire was still under investigation by the Gatlinburg Fire Department, the Gatlinburg Police Department and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. Anyone with information about it should call the Tennessee Arson Hotline at 1-800-762-3017 or the Gatlinburg Fire Department at 865-436-5112.

They also said that sidewalks in downtown Gatlinburg were reopened after they were closed Sunday. Permanent fencing was also installed by the property owner on Tuesday.

On Monday, the city said the property owner’s private contractor would be demolishing the damaged structure. The section of Parkway will remain closed until demolition is complete for safety reasons.

On Monday afternoon, the city said it had reopened the Parkway in downtown Gatlinburg. A portion of sidewalk on the southbound side remained closed between Johnny Rockets and The Gatlinburg Inn. The city said the sidewalk would remain closed until permanent fencing could be installed at the demolition site.

According to the release, city officials asked people traveling to and from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to use the Gatlinburg Bypass. 

“Travel in the immediate area is not recommended at this time, however, If individuals need to access the downtown Gatlinburg area, motorists can utilize River Road and Cherokee Orchard Road,” the news release read.

Gatlinburg Trolley services were also suspended Sunday due to the closure of the Parkway. 

Other businesses nearby also saw damage from the fire, such as Ole Smoky Candy Kitchen across the street. 

“Our store will have to be closed longer for maybe longer for what we anticipated,” said Patricia Edwards, the owner of Ole Smoky Candy Kitchen.

Edwards mentioned that they might need to throw away some of their candy because of the smoke. 

Autumn Taylor, the director of operations at Kennedy Concepts, said Puckers is one of their beloved restaurants. “I have faith that no matter what this brings we’ll move forward stronger.”

The city said the cause of the fire remains under investigation. If anyone has any information on the fire, Gatlinburg authorities said to contact the Tennessee Arson Hotline at 1-800-762-3017 or the Gatlinburg Fire Department at 865-436-5112.

Excluding the 2016 wildfires, the last time downtown Gatlinburg saw a fire of this magnitude was in the summer of 1992. A fire broke out at a block of buildings near the Space Needle that used to be known as “Rebel Corner.” In the end, roughly a dozen businesses were destroyed, including the original Ripley’s Believe It or Not museum, a haunted house, an arcade, a gift shop, and others. Ripley’s was able to rebuild but lost several unique displays in the fire.