Burriss: Unanswered questions about Gatlinburg fires

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Three things are of particular interest in the timeline from last November's devastating fire in Gatlinburg: two juveniles allegedly caused the fire, emergency crews responded and the two teenagers were arrested.

Now, questions have arisen about emergency notifications and responses to the fire. And the Sevier County district attorney has decided releasing any information related to the fire, including the emergency response, could potentially compromise the ongoing criminal investigation.

It is beyond dispute some kinds of pre-trial publicity could jeopardize a prosecution...but only if the information is directly related to the criminal trial.

We already know emergency responders did not use existing technologies to warn residents about a possible evacuation. It is, of course, unclear, and open to much speculation, about how effective any notifications might have been. How emergency notifications and responses relate to the alleged arson, destruction of property, and 14 deaths is more than a little unclear.

But here's the thing: eventually the records are going to be unsealed. It may be in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, or it may be after the trials and years of appeals.

I'm rather wondering if there is some kind of perverse legal maneu-vering going on here: perhaps the district attorney is thinking if he can prevent the release of information about negligence on the part of emergency responders, he can prevent a lawsuit against the county or against individuals where those records would be entered as evidence.

But of course in a lawsuit, the records would be used as evidence. Which would probably then put them into the public domain.

In this day and age most government officials have discovered the impossibility of keeping public records secret, no matter what their arguments.

Trying to hide documents only leads to their slow leaking, which keeps the story on the front page, which only whets the public appetite for more information.

It's a vicious circle, which, apparently, the Sevier County district attorney has yet to appreciate.

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