Gatlinburg Fire Destroys Building Complex On Downtown Strip
As you have probably heard by now, we have had a new Gatlinburg fire. The city of Gatlinburg suffered a devastating loss early this week when a destructive fire broke out at the building complex of downtown Gatlinburg’s China Bazaar, Pucker’s Sports Grill, Gifts of Gatlinburg and Café 420. All 4 businesses have been completely destroyed by the fire and 1 person was found dead by firefighters.
I specifically waited to report on this until several days had passed and more information could be gauged from it, as the subject of fires and loss in downtown Gatlinburg has been a subject that has become a reality in recent years in our area, therefore necessitating sensitivity and avoiding information that could be misconstrued in its reporting. This very website was started as a response to the famous 2016 Smoky Mountain Wildfires that greatly affected and changed downtown Gatlinburg forever and I personally remember rumors being spread that the entire city had been wiped off the map. This event brought some of those memories back this week, as well as direct comparisons to other famous fire that occurred not far from the China Bazaar/Pucker’s complex at the original Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! museum in 1992.
WVLT reports the following:
“Four downtown Gatlinburg businesses are picking up the pieces after a fire Sunday morning destroyed their building. China Bazaar, Pucker’s Sports Grill, Gifts of Gatlinburg, and Café 420 were all deemed a complete loss. Cleanup continued Tuesday, with crews piling up rubble near Traffic Light 6 on the Gatlinburg Pkwy. As for Café 420, they have plans to rebuild, and their employees will keep their jobs. If the new location isn’t in Gatlinburg, it will definitely be in Sevier County.”
As of October 13th, 2022, the cause of the fire is not yet known. Arson is being investigated, but there is little to nothing serving as a foundation for that possibility at this time, and I personally doubt it. With a large building complex where more than a handful of businesses share what is essentially one whole building unit, the possibilities for electrical fires or something similar is a much more likely scenario. The 1 casualty of the fire has not yet been identified officially, but I have seen sources claim the identity is Joe Bates, a local homeless person who often slept outdoors on the Gatlinburg strip but was nonetheless well-liked by many in our area and had a mutually good relationship with many of the local musicians that perform at restaurants and outdoor venues in the city. I’ve seen several eulogies in relevant social media dedicated to him demonstrating this. He will be missed.
At the first half of this week, the fire and the efforts to put it out had shut down a crucial section of downtown Gatlinburg and snarled traffic at a time when traffic had increased due to the onset of the autumn colors and families coming into town from Fall Break. Trolley services had also been temporarily suspended. As of now, that section has been opened back up, the wreckage has been fully demolished, the area is blocked off, and traffic is flowing through as normal along with trolley service being restored. Nearby businesses had been reported to be slightly damaged by the fire as well, such as Gatlinburg Inn and Ole Smoky Candy Kitchen.
I myself admit to feeling a personal connection to this particular disaster through the loss of the Gatlinburg China Bazaar. That was one of my favorite stores starting more than 20 years ago, I’d dropped a few hundred dollars there over the years, and it was a store that several of my friends, my brother and myself all worked at across the last two decades. It is not a total loss as there is still a large, expansive China Bazaar store in Pigeon Forge, but memories were made there, indeed.
The shock loss of property and life is always hard to take in, particularly for a close-knit tourism community like Gatlinburg that intends to give locals and visitors a break from these hard realities, but as history has shown, we are also resilient in our goal to make this community a place for positive action, energy, and personal, mental and spiritual restoration, no matter what obstacles we face. We encourage visitors who want to see Gatlinburg this month, season or year to absolutely come on in and experience the great joy this city provides over 1 million people a year no matter the events that take place.
See WVLT’s full article at https://www.wvlt.tv/2022/10/12/gatlinburg-businesses-look-rebuild-after-massive-fire/.