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No injuries in explosion at Johnson Matthey
  • Updated

SEVIERVILLE — An explosion at a chemical company on Airport Road led city officials to issue a shelter in place order for nearby businesses and homes for a few hours Thursday afternoon, but it was lifted before 4 p.m. and no injuries were reported.

Johnson Matthey Catalysts makes nickel and aluminum alloys and catalysts at its facility, said operations manager James Williams. The building is located alongside the former airport terminal, near some businesses and hangars as well as a residential neighborhood that backs up to the building.

“Today there was an explosion that took place in our foundry operation in the back house area,” Williams said.

“The safety features of the back house functioned the way they were supposed to, so that minimized any issues,” he added.

The explosion was felt and heard miles away, and a column of smoke was visible in the vicinity for a few minutes. It caused brief power outages to nearby homes and businesses, and Sevier County Electric System crews were still working on some downed lines Thursday afternoon.

Images shared on social media by neighbors showed a back wall of the facility demolished, but Williams said they were still assessing damages Thursday.

None of the employees were injured, and they were assessing the damage to the building Thursday, he said. It wasn’t clear when the facility would reopen.

Concerns over the chemicals in the plant and a possibility of an explosion led the city to issue a shelter in place order for nearby businesses and homes. Sevierville police knocked on more than 90 doors Thursday afternoon, but city spokesman Bob Stahlke said occupants chose to shelter in place rather than evacuate.

Sevierville Fire Department’s headquarters is located a short distance from the facility, and Chief Matt Henderson said they saw and felt the explosion when it happened.

They were at the facility within three minutes, and immediately started working on a response plan.

Because of the possibly volatile chemicals at Johnson Matthey, Sevierville firefighters train regularly with personnel at the facility, he said.

“We know their staff, their staff knows our staff, we train with them on these types of responses, he said.

Because of that, they were able to immediately work on a coordinated response, and to go in to make sure a fire suppression system in the facility did its job.

“There was a risk, a significant risk for secondary explosion due to the fire, due to the process,” Henderson said.

“We were able to mitigate the risk with a suppression system they have to handle that.”

That system extinguished most of the fire inside the facility, and firefighters used dry chemical extinguishers to mop up after that, he said.

By about 4 p.m., Henderson reported the fires were out and they were lifting the shelter in place order.

It wasn’t clear Thursday what caused the fire, but Henderson and Williams said their personnel would work together to investigate what happened.

“We’ll do an investigation on fully what happened there and we’ll take that and definitely improve and be sure that we keep things safer,” Williams said.

Contact Jeff at jfarrell@themountainpress.com or Twitter at @jeffmtnpress


News
Local bed and breakfast celebrating 35 years
  • Updated

SEVIERVILLE — A local bed and breakfast situated on a hilltop with a mountain view is celebrating 35 years making guests feel like they’re at home.

Blue Mountain Mist Country Inn and Spa will celebrate the anniversary with five days of events and entertainment, starting Saturday, July 23, and concluding on their anniversary date, Wednesday, July 27.

“Our family is lifelong descendants of Sevier County. We go all the way back to the Shields family, which are one of the original settlers of the area. We have been here since the area was first settled,” said Jason Ball, general manager. “My parents are lifetime residents of Sevier County, and we have been in business here now for 35 years. They built this in 1987.”

The business was started by his parents, Norman and Sarah Ball, on 60-acres Sarah Ball received from her parents, on land that has been in their family since the late 1930s. Prior to starting the bed and breakfast, Sarah Ball was a school teacher. Norman Ball had a background as an architectural draftsman and drew the plans for the Victorian-style farmhouse.

“We get people who leave telling us, ‘We’ve never been so comfortable anywhere we’ve ever stayed. We’ve never felt so much like a home. We’ve never felt so laid back and relaxed.’ That’s the atmosphere we really strive for. We want people to be able to walk in through the door and feel a weight lifted,” Jason Ball said.

In 1993 they added five one-bedroom cottages, and in 2014 opened a full service day spa. Jason Ball has been manager since 2006, but you can still find his parents frequenting the property.

“She likes to come around and make sure things are the way that she feels like they should look. She has a keen eye for details and she definitely wants to make sure the details are there,” Ball said.

The 35th-year celebration begins with a full day of activities, vendors and craft demonstrations. Admission and the entertainment are free, and Ball said he hopes the community will come out and enjoy the festivities. Saturday night ends with the musical group The Get Up performing.

In addition to the vendors and food trucks, Sunday will include a talent show, cornhole tournament and other entertainment. The celebration continues on Monday with a picnic on the lawn and outdoor movie night. Tuesday there are DIY classes, though they are mostly full, and Wednesday will be the “Grand Finale” with a concert on the lawn by Jimbo Whaley and Friends and fireworks.

Blue Mountain Mist Country Inn and Spa is designed to be a place that can carry on the tradition of small local business owners who established the tourism industry in Sevier County.

“Sevier County’s roots are based in small businesses. That’s what got Sevier County started. Tourism in the area was all the locals coming together, from performers to people in the hospitality industry, the restaurant industry. Back years ago it was all just mom and pop stores, and I think that’s what really drove what people felt like is Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge,” Ball said.

“There’s not as many mom and pops now as there used to be, but I think what got that legacy started was the mom and pops. For us, continuing a tradition of true Southern hospitality and really welcoming people into our home and helping them relax and unwind and decompress is essential for anyone who’s on vacation.”

More information about Blue Mountain Mist Country Inn and Spa can be found at bluemountainmist.com. A full schedule of events for the 35th Birthday Celebration can be found at their Facebook page, www.facebook.com/BlueMtnMist.


News
Veterans Heritage Site Foundation plans cemetery upkeep
  • Updated

NATIONAL PARK — The Veterans Heritage Site Foundation is dedicated to the upkeep of many veterans heritage sites, with a special focus on Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The nonprofit’s volunteers will be conducting some upcoming projects at cemeteries in the national park, including the Trentham Cemetery at Elkmont on Aug. 27.

Foundation President Marilyn Childress said there are 21 veterans graves at the Trentham Cemetery, mostly from WWII but ranging from mid-1800s to present day.

“There was somebody buried there in May,” Childress said.

It is one of only 10 open cemeteries in the Smokies that people can still be buried at, she said.

Another event is Nov. 12 at Plemmons Cemetery in Greenbrier.

There are approximately eight veterans buried there.

Volunteers travel to these sites as part of the foundation’s Smoky Mountain Veterans Project, which is aimed at upkeep at the cemeteries and honoring the veterans.

Childress said they are looking at replacing some headstones in the future so the veterans will not be forgotten. In more distant and difficult to access terrain, they are looking at purchasing more lightweight foot markers, because it’s not feasible to ask volunteers to hike such difficult trails with heavy headstones.

However, they are also looking to replace three headstones at Cades Cove in the next few weeks.

Childress said it’s important to replace the stones that are no longer legible. It makes it harder to recognize these veterans, such as when hiking volunteers seek to place wreaths at graves in the national park as part of Wreaths Across America, which seeks to place a wreath on the grave of every veteran possible.

“We want to make sure they are not forgotten, and if you cannot read the words on the headstone — a lot of our hikers cannot read the names,” Childress said.

For more information about the foundation, including opportunities to volunteer, visit veteransheritagesite.org or contact Childress at President@veteransheritagesite.org.


Salvation Army to 'Stuff the Bus' with school supplies
  • Updated

SEVIERVILLE — The Salvation Army of Sevierville will be collecting school supplies this Saturday to distribute to children in need this school year.

The “Stuff the Bus” school supply drive will be held from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. outside the Walmart Supercenter, 1414 Parkway, Sevierville.

“Not only is this a nationwide campaign for The Salvation Army, but we feel like there is a pressing need here in Sevier and Cocke County to stabilize and help provide for our youth to have a successful school year,” said Lt. Rashad Poole, Sevierville Corps officer. “We know that 6 out of 10 youths who walk in the doors of school on their first day will not have the proper supplies needed to start off the school year successfully.”

The organization will hand out fliers with needed supplies to people entering Walmart Saturday and encourage them to bring back some items that children can use in the classrooms, including items like pencils, notebooks, markers, crayons, and hand sanitizer.

“We ask you to pick up a few things in the school supply section and as you come out take them over to our bus and help stuff our bus for children in need throughout Sevier and Cocke counties,” Poole said.

Distribution of the items will take place in August. More information can be found at www.SalvationArmySevierville.org or on Facebook, @SalvationArmySevierville.

“I had a lady call; she lives in Sevierville. It’s an elderly couple that is taking care of their grandchildren, they have custody, and she broke down on the phone with me; she was crying. She was basically going to have to decide whether she was going to provide food for her child, hot meals for her kid on the table for dinner, or buy all these school supplies,” Poole said.

“We don’t want any family in Sevier County to have to worry about where their school supplies are going to come from or have to make that hard decision.”


News
Additional flooding causes full Greenbrier closure
  • Updated

NATIONAL PARK — Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials have closed the Greenbrier area to all use due to additional road damage caused by an estimated 3 inches of rain occurring during the early morning hours on Thursday, July 21.

Roads were further damaged by floodwaters that rose above riverbanks and also from overland waterflow from above the roadways.

The overland waterflow caused a slide both above and below a steep road section between the Greenbrier Ranger Station and the Greenbrier Picnic Area. Water is now flowing below the road surface which has undermined the stability of the road. The road is unstable and is not safe for motorists, pedestrians, or cyclists to travel across. Engineers will be assessing road stability over the next several days and making recommendations for repair options. The area will remain closed to all use until further notice.

The temporary closure continues to include Ramsey Prong Road, Porters Creek Road, Ramsey Cascades Trail, Porters Creek Trail, Greenbrier Picnic Area, Greenbrier Picnic Pavilion, and Backcountry Campsites 31, 32, and 33. Old Settlers, Brushy Mountain, and Grapeyard Ridge Trails remain open, but hikers must access them from parking lots near the Greenbrier entrance or from other areas on the park.

Across the park, rainfall was estimated between one and three inches overnight. Visitors are cautioned to avoid hikes that involve unbridged river crossings until high waters subside. For more information about temporary road closures across the park, visit the park website at http://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/temproadclose.htm.


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