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OnStar Comes to Travelers’ Aid During Devastating Gatlinburg Wildfire    

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OnStar locates lodging for anxious travelers during the tragic Gatlinburg wildfire.

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OnStar locates lodging for anxious travelers during the tragic Gatlinburg wildfire.

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In ways large and small, OnStar is there to help in a crisis

On Monday, Nov. 28, 2016, a deadly wildfire swept through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and into Gatlinburg, Tenn., a blaze that would eventually claim the lives of more than a dozen people and cause more than $500 million in damage.

Among those affected were vacationer Dinah Spillers of Covington, Ga., and her three friends, who had been staying at an area resort only to find themselves suddenly trapped in the blaze atop a mountain.

The four jumped into Dinah’s Chevrolet Malibu and headed to the resort’s single, narrow road down the mountain, but met a wall of flames as high as the trees. They were forced to drive back to the resort, where they saw other guests driving around the parking lot looking for a way out. “We were deciding whether we should get into the pool. We thought we might die up there, but none of us was panicking,” recalls Dinah. In fact, even in the face of the wildfire, her sense of humor remained undaunted. “I told my friends, ‘I paid for my cremation already — do you think I can get my money back?’” As the group considered their options, a truck pulled up and led them down a tiny, pothole-filled path straight down the mountain.

Dinah Spillers with three of her friends and her vehicle in the background.
Dinah Spillers, OnStar Member

The friends spent the night in an emergency shelter, and then tried unsuccessfully to find lodging nearby. With an entire city full of people looking for places to stay in the area, the few hotels and motels that weren’t already full dramatically raised their rates in the face of demand. That’s when Dinah decided to push her blue OnStar button. “I pressed it on impulse,” says Dinah, who had been an OnStar Member since getting her Malibu in 2014. “I didn’t know if they could help. When the Advisor came on, I said, ‘I don’t know if you do things like this, but we have a problem here.’”

The Advisor quickly found them a room in nearby Pigeon Forge.

“They were very gracious, and the hotel didn’t charge a lot,” says Dinah. “I don’t know if it was OnStar that got us that price, but we were lucky and very grateful.”

Finding a hotel is just one of the advantages OnStar provides to Members — with Marketplace,*24 Members can browse restaurants and retailers as well as hotel accommodations. The four friends stayed four nights before they could return to Gatlinburg to retrieve their belongings.

Another way that OnStar could have helped during the crisis is if Dinah had pushed her red Emergency button. In severe weather conditions or disasters (including hazardous materials situations, earthquakes, landslides, wildfires, terrorist activity and more), OnStar Advisors provide fast, knowledgeable help with routing assistance and other emergency resources.*16 They can even contact family members to let them know where you are and that you’re safe.

“We’ve used OnStar a lot, but just for directions — I really didn’t realize they could help me in a situation like the one we had,” says Dinah. “It was great to have. OnStar has been good to us, and it has been worth every penny.”