AEF Birds Safe from Gatlinburg & Pigeon Forge Fires
December 7th, 2016
At the end of November 2016, Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee were threatened by large forest fires that originated at Chimney Tops in the Great Smoky Mountains. On the evening of November 28th, with the fire only miles away from the American Eagle Foundation’s headquarters at Dollywood, and a mandatory evacuation of residents and tourists in place, the AEF staff began conducting a precautionary bird evacuation — something we have never had to do before. In addition to the threat of approaching fires, smoke inhalation by the birds was also a major concern.
Our AEF first responders wasted no time rushing from their homes to our headquarters and loading somewhere around 50-60 birds into travel kennels and into every available vehicle. It wasn’t graceful, but we did our best to retrieve every bird and then load about 40-50 pounds of raptor food along with it. These birds rested safely in individual kennels at several AEF staff member homes 10+ miles away from the fires.
The next day, the AEF planned on evacuating the Eagles from Eagle Mountain Sanctuary as we couldn’t do it in the dark on the 28th, but we were fearful that we might not have had enough travel kennels/carriers to complete the evacuation. We put out an “all-call,” and thankfully the AEF received an outpouring of kennel donations (or kennels loaned) from Petsmart, Knoxville Zoo, Bass Pro Shops. The AEF is grateful for the outpouring of support and the generosity of countless individual donors.
Our offices and bird facilities were untouched by any fires, and all of the birds were returned to the AEF several days later, safe and sound.
Our hearts go out to those people who lost loved ones, homes, and businesses. We are proud of the Dollywood Company and Dolly Parton (our sponsor) who set up the “My People Fund,” which provides aid to those who lost so much in the devastating fires.