An Asheville television reporter’s insistent questioning at a Friday press conference in Gatlinburg regarding devastating wildfires there this week raised the ire of local officials, and sparked anger in residents.
WLOS-TV reporter Kimberly King covered Friday’s press conference in Gatlinburg, which included Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Tennessee U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker. The fire has been blamed for 13 deaths and the destruction of at least 1,000 structures, homes and businesses.
But the update ended abruptly after several pointed questions from King, WATE.com reported.
King accused someone of “dropping the ball” when it came to fire and evacuation preparedness, the ABC-affiliate reported. She asked who battled the initial blaze (which started along a trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park) and who forecasted weather conditions for the weekend. Officials answered that there was no “dropping the ball” and that helicopters were dropping water on the fire, and that there were appropriate resources allocated to fight the blaze early on.
King continued, noting that she covered a wildfire in Lake Lure where people were evacuated “and no one died, thankfully, in those fires. Officials responded again, then Mayor Waters stepped in:
“I think what we are getting into is folks that don’t know this area and are Monday morning quarterbacking,” said Waters. “We are not going to get into that right now, because we did the best… we’re not going to into Monday morning quarterbacking right now. That will be something when we have the evaluation that we’ll certainly take a look at and ask these questions.”
Hundreds of online commenters immediately criticized King, calling her out as insensitive and calling for her firing. More than 8,000 people have signed a Change.org online petition calling for WLOS to fire King.
WLOS issued the following statement in response, according to WATE.com:
“We at WLOS News13 stand with all the people and first responders in Tennessee, battling the historic and deadly wildfires around Gatlinburg. We remain committed to covering this tragic story to the best of our ability, reflecting the highest standards of journalism. We always encourage feedback on ways we can best serve our audiences.”
The Knoxville News has reported that Tennessee officials confirmed that the order to evacuate Gatlinburg amid Monday night’s deadly firestorm was not sent to mobile devices in the area.
The citywide evacuation was broadcast only on area TV and radio, according to the newspaper, and when it came, it was several hours after the flames had swept into Gatlinburg.