Gatlinburg, Smoky Mountains reopen for business after fatal wildfires

Burned structures are seen from aboard a National Guard helicopter near Gatlinburg, Tenn., Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016. Thousands of people raced through a hell-like landscape to escape wildfires that killed several people and destroyed hundreds of homes in the Great Smoky Mountains. (AP Photo/Erik Schelzig)

GATLINBURG (WATE/AP) – Last week’s devastating fire is a becoming a distant memory for the businesses on the Gatlinburg strip.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the resort town reopened to the public after wildfires that caused 14 deaths and damaged about 2,500 buildings.

After officials moved barriers blocking the roadway at 7 a.m. Friday. A steady stream of traffic could be seen heading into town, including cars and food delivery trucks.

Most of the main tourist area in Gatlinburg was spared by the fires that were whipped into the city by hurricane-force winds the night of Nov. 28, and officials are keen for people to return to the city with a population of less than 4,000 that draws more than 11 million visitors a year.

Prosecutors have charged two juveniles with starting fires within the park that later spread.

“We’re just staying positive and focused on what we do best, so we’re looking to serve the guests the best that we can,” said Heather Gibson, operational director of Kennedy Concepts.

Businesses were working hard this week to make sure everything was read.

“It’s pretty much been one of everything you can think of, whether it’s just cleanup, products, making maintenance and everything is going to be working and setup by Friday, making it as professional as possible like we try to be every single day,” said Joey O’Neill, supervisor of Ripley’s 5D Theater.

They want to make sure no trace of the fire is anywhere to be seen

“We’ve brought in all of the employees. We’ve done a complete cleaning from the ceiling to the floor, everything in between,” said Gibson. “We have a company in right now that’s cleaning up all of the air ducts and air filters and everything like that, just to make sure the smoke smell and anything like that is out of the restaurant.”

Many of the businesses on the parkway didn’t suffer any direct damage from the fire.

“Just mainly a lot of smoke damage and such. No fire damage. Everything is maintained and working properly,” said O’Neill.

Now, all they need is help from those who love visiting the Smoky Mountains.

“We would kindly ask that you all come back here and visit us,” said O’Neill. “I know that seems to be asking a lot, but spring break, summer vacation and Christmas is our economy here. If you could please come back, that’s all we can ask.”

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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