'The whole town is on fire': Newly released video shows cops reaching Gatlinburg victims

Story highlights

  • The footage was released after charges against two suspects were dropped
  • Officers drive into thick smoke to rescue residents near the fire

(CNN)The inferno looks like a scene from an apocalyptic movie.

But the blaze spreading across the Tennessee horizon is real, and Sevierville police are driving right toward it.
"Keep praying, man ... pray," one officer says.
    Fire evacuee: It was a firestorm
    gatlinburg tennessee wildfires todd tsr dnt _00011621

      JUST WATCHED

      Fire evacuee: It was a firestorm

    MUST WATCH

    Fire evacuee: It was a firestorm 01:44
    Newly released dashcam video shows what police and firefighters endured while responding to the Gatlinburg wildfires. The November blazes killed 14 people and caused more than $500 million in damage in the popular tourist community.
    Officials released the police footage Wednesday after arson charges were dropped against two juveniles suspected in the blazes.
    While the flames quickly turned catastrophic, only now are we seeing the extent of the hellfire through the eyes of rescuers.

    Speeding toward disaster

    While hundreds of cars fled in the opposite direction, a pair of Sevierville police officers sped toward the inferno the night of November 28.
    Sparkling Christmas lights turned into dull blurs of color as smoke covered the road.
    "Damn, I can't see," one officer says.
    Moments later, the officers make a turn and see a mountain near downtown Gatlinburg engulfed in flames, from its peak all the way to the ground.
    Sevierville dashcam video shows a mountain engulfed in flames near downtown Gatlinburg on November 28.
    "Holy sh*t," one officer says.
    "That is the craziest thing I have ever seen," another says.
    As police head deeper into danger to find residents, the sky turns into an opaque mix of flames and smoke.
    "I can't believe all this is on fire," an officer says. "The whole town is on fire. It's like a ghost town."

    'I'm just worried about getting you the hell out of here'

    While speeding toward endangered houses, police encounter a man in need of help and get him into the car. One officer gasps for air after getting back in the vehicle.
    Son who lost mom in fire: 'Everything is gone'
    Son who lost mom in fire: 'Everything is gone'

      JUST WATCHED

      Son who lost mom in fire: 'Everything is gone'

    MUST WATCH

    Son who lost mom in fire: 'Everything is gone' 01:49
    Later, they tell the man he needs to get out.
    "We're just going to dump you off ... here," an officer tells him. "There's a bus, and you can take it out to the community center."
    The man asks about Pigeon Forge, the popular tourist town and home of Dollywood.
    "Man, I'm just worried about getting you the hell out of here," one officer responds. "I really don't care about ... Pigeon Forge."
    "We're trying to get everybody out of Gatlinburg right now," the other officer says.
    After the officers drop the man off at an evacuation bus, they head into pitch darkness. For a long stretch, there are no street lights.
    A woman's voice comes across the police radio: "Please be advised, all power is out," she says. "We can't even have anything power up."

    'We will arrest you!'

    As the smoke gets thicker and their breaths gets shorter, the officers realize the danger they're getting into.
    "Anybody that's staying like this should be arrested," one officer says.
    Then, a massive fireball shoots right up to the road.
    Dashcam video from the Sevierville Police Department shows a fireball close to a road on November 28.
    When police reached a residential neighborhood, they had little time to get everyone out.
    "This is the police! Mandatory evacuations! Please leave the property!" one officer shouted.
    "Get your *** out of the house, now! Go!" another screamed. "We will arrest you. Come on, get in the car! The fire is over that bridge. Let's go, come on!"

    Moving forward

    By the end of its deadly rampage, the wildfire damaged or destroyed hundreds of homes and buildings.
    Gatlinburg fire couldn't have been prevented
    Gatlinburg fire couldn't have been prevented

      JUST WATCHED

      Gatlinburg fire couldn't have been prevented

    MUST WATCH

    Gatlinburg fire couldn't have been prevented 01:12
    Roaring Fork Baptist Church was one of those destroyed. Seven months later, the congregation is still trying to rebuild.
    "It's progress -- every nail that goes in, every shingle that goes on," Pastor Kim McCroskey told CNN affiliate WATE on Monday.
    But tourist sites such as Dollywood are back in full swing, spokesman Pete Owens said.
    "The entire area is still affected by the misconception after the fires that the tourism industry was adversely impacted," Owens said in an email Wednesday.
    "Dollywood is not as adversely affected as some -- this past holiday week, for example, was up about 8% over the same week last year but the combination of the hangover from the fire and an extremely wet year has impacted our attendance overall."