Gatlinburg Firestorm 2016

We have received numerous requests to document our perspective of the recent firestorm that devastated our community. Initially we resisted because truth be told, we were very fortunate. We never wanted to make it about us, our challenges and heartache, the things that we observed each and every day. Nor about our own feelings of guilt for being spared as friends and neighbors who lost their homes and businesses grieved. We will, however, attempt to share with you our unique perspective and our own experiences.

Monday, November 28th, began like most days had over the previous weeks. Smoke lingered in the air and the effects of a then 500 acre fire burning at Chimney Tops remained evident. Feeling somewhat secure in the knowledge that both our home and business were 5 miles from the fire, we went about our day. As the day progressed, so did the fire and increase of smoke that filled our yard.

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Our yard shrouded in smoke.

Newfound Gap Road (Hwy 441) was closed as the fire had then grown and jumped to the other side of the road. At around midday we learned that the fire had then spread into the national park facilities in the Twin Creeks area of the park. This concerned us greatly because Mynatt Park, the Noah "Bud" Ogle cabin and Roaring Fork Motor nature trail were nearby. While talking with friends in the downtown area, we learned that the smoke had become so thick that it resembled night... cars driving with their headlights on, businesses closing early as breathing became difficult. Images of visitors and locals walking downtown with masks covering their faces were posted on the internet. As nightfall approached, the winds increased, and what was merely us observing the situation became much more real. We had a growing curiosity, wanting to know where, in real time, the fires were, and if we ourselves were in immediate danger. We scoured social media, internet, radio and television news for some sort of update, so for a brief moment, we even thought about driving down to find out for certain. We decided against it, reason being the fear of encountering a blown down tree or closed road that would prevent us from returning to our home and fur family. We decided that the safer option was to stay at home and try to acquire some information of the situation as it evolved.

Shortly thereafter, we lost power, which meant no internet, phone or television. We later learned that the wind gusts had knocked down power lines throughout the region. We had the foresight to blow all of the leaves away from any structures to the edge of the manicured portion of our property the day before. As night fell, the winds rapidly increased and we watched as they blew the leaves back toward the house and then suddenly changed direction and carried them back out again. We stood on our front porch in the darkness as the clouds overhead glowed an eerie orange-red and the winds began gusting even more than before. The only information we received was from friends and family via sporadic text messages as the towers were being over taxed with the sheer volume of communications. Later in the evening, we learned from our brother in Sevierville, that the Spur from Gatlinburg to Pigeon Forge was now on fire and closed. This was of great concern because what we had last heard, the fire was quite a distance from there. If it had covered that much ground in that direction, how far had it advanced toward ours? From our property we could see Glades Rd. which was now a steady stream of cars heading out of town and a river of emergency vehicles with lights and sirens heading inbound. This continued all night long. We were flying blind then, not really knowing what to do, in the dark (literally and figuratively) at the severity of the fire, completely unaware that Gatlinburg had been evacuated, and that Glades Road was the only way out for evacuees and the way in for first responders. We received countless messages from friends and family telling us that we were welcome to stay with them, furry family included, and for those offers we will remain eternally grateful - even the one that read simply out of concern, "Get the f*ck out of there!".

We spent much of our time on the front porch that night, going out every 15 minutes, scanning the mountains and ridge lines along the horizon for any active sign of flames, watching as trees whipped to and fro and listening as they snapped and fell in the distance. We both began to feel that there was a possibility that if the fires didn't get us, a tree surely would. We chose not to share that aloud but instead to devote our energies toward not only praying for our safety and survival but for the brave men and women heading toward danger in an attempt to protect us all.

What we saw and heard that night...

As dawn began to break and with cellphone batteries nearly depleted, we headed outside to the back of the SUV and stood beneath the raised lift-gate taking turns charging our phones and making calls to assure family, as they awoke around the country, that in spite of what they might have heard in reports, we were still very much alive and well. With our property still shrouded in smoke, we remained oblivious as to the enormity of the situation. We had no idea whether the fires were under control or that in reality, they were less than a mile from us, still burning. Suddenly it began to rain. We glanced skyward in an effort to gain confirmation that it wasn't a dream. As we turned and looked into each other's eyes, tears began to stream down our cheeks as we embraced and held on tight to one another, assuming the worst was over. Although it may have been for us personally, little did we know, for others, it had only just begun. Around 11:30am, our power was finally restored.

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