The devastating fires that burned Gatlinburg and Sevier County late last year destroyed homes, businesses, thousands of acres of forests, and claimed 14 lives. Now, efforts are underway to rebuild and help people get their lives back.
Several videos show the terrifying conditions of the fire as people drove through the flames, possibly saying goodbye to their homes and possessions for the last time. Later, the remains of buildings and shells of vehicles offer depressing glimpses of how destructive the tragedy was.
“I had no idea that our hose would burn,” said Melissa Dove, a resident of Gatlinburg. “Even when we saw the fire on our street, I still had hope and the belief that our hose would still be there.”
Glenn Turner, an extension agent with the University of Tennessee, is leading an effort to help those like Dove who’ve lost their homes. He coordinated a gift card collection with donations rolling in from 16 states, totaling more than $60,000.
The staff at the UT Extension Office created care bags for students and teachers at Sevier County Schools.
“We’re trying to make initial contact with those kids that have been affected and put some things in their hands that say, ‘Your 4-H family is thinking about you,’” said Turner.
Two of the lives lost in the fire were young sisters who were both 4-Hers.
UT Extension is trying to help in other ways. At the Pigeon Forge Library, consumer experts hare helping those who lost valuable documents in the fire.
“It’s a very initial part of actually putting your life back together because of birth certificates or drivers’ licenses or photo IDs that are so basic to everything we do,” said Dr. Dena Wise of UT Extension.
Businesses, homes and paperwork are all replaceable, but a spirit survives.