|photo source unknown|
I'm going to back up a little to the weekend of Thanksgiving. On Thanksgiving weekend, Sevier County's population grows from around 87,000 residents to probably well over 250,000. Our County encompasses the cities of Gatlinburg, Sevierville, Pigeon Forge and the Town of Pittman Center.
I live in Pittman Center which is about 10 minutes from downtown Gatlinburg. We had been in a severe drought for several weeks and the whole area was a tinder box and we, as emergency service workers were aware that we could have a break out of brush fires. This is one of the most difficult calls to dispatch, especially when the Wildland Task Force is activated. What this means is every fire department and usually the Forestry Department are all dispatched to a scene. We have three paid fire departments and eight volunteer departments in our County.
I remember being so happy we had made it through the Holiday without a major incident.
However, we knew the National Park had an active fire near the Chimney Tops Trail that started the day before Thanksgiving.
|Chimney Tops Fire GSMNP|
This is approximately 8 miles from Gatlinburg. We answer any 911 calls placed within the National Park and transfer those callers to the NPS Dispatch Center if they need a Ranger. We send an ambulance from Gatlinburg if its medical in nature or a car accident.
On that Monday morning, my friend and partner in crime Lisa text me from her job in Gatlinburg. She worked at the Mountain Lodge Restaurant ( a casualty of the fire) on the East Parkway. The text read " what is going on in Gatlinburg?" I was in my office and quickly looked at the CAD screen and didn't see anything significant. She then forwarded me these photos:
This was about 11am in the morning and was taken from the Mountain Lodge. I went to the back to check with the dispatchers and they said that they were told we did not have an active fire in the city of Gatlinburg and that the smoke and ash was from the Chimney Tops 2 Fire.
I know that is little comfort to many and I in no way mean to diminish their grief.
I was home and already in PJ's which is pretty typical for me on any work day by 6pm. I had heard a few sirens a little later and thought " oh no, I hope its not a brush fire". I had also noticed the winds had picked up and suddenly a gust shook my house. I knew it had to be a heavy wind to do so. About that time my phone rang and what I can only explain as a 24 hour period of hell on earth began.
" You need to get out of your house and we are covered up and can't answer all the incoming calls"
I briefly was able to ask "where's the fire and what do you need?"
I certainly wasn't prepared for the answer of "fires all over and more reports coming in, particularly in the Gatinburg area and Cobbly Nob."
Cobbly Nob is about five minutes from my house.
I quickly gathered a few vital things. I loaded my two little Toy Fox Terriers, Merry and Pippin, and Pyewacket the kitten into crates.
No Way Joses and the Ripleys Aquarium in front of Greystone Heights burning
|from Inside Park Vista Hotel|
One situation that was particularly hard on all of us was that one of our volunteer agencies, Pittman Center Volunteer Fire Department, had pretty much battled a monster all night without communications after their repeater site burned. We had no idea in dispatch the size of their fire, where they were or if they were ok. They were in the community of Cobbly Nob, east of Gatlinburg pretty much on their own. We sent them initially on one structure fire. They ended up with 98 houses involved. For the first nine (9) hours they battled alone on that mountain in high winds that reached gusts of almost 90 mile an hour. They had a total of 19 firefighters. The Chief is Rosemary Nichols. She is the little sister of my friend Lisa and my neighbor here in Pittman Center.
Hellfire may have rained down on us that night, but many stories of courage, faith and grace are being shared.
|Roaring Fork Baptist Church|
One thing that I wish everyone in America was aware of .... if anyone wants a lesson in how to behave post- crisis look no further than our County. To my knowledge, we had zero looting in a Town filled with retail shops and expensive items. Some areas of Gatlinburg were closed for almost two weeks, even to residents. The only thing that was a problem was an overflow and abundance of donated items, so much that we ran out of space to store the goods. And then lets talk about Dolly Parton:
I haven't really ever talked much about this on the blog, but my mom and Dolly's dad were brother and sister. The Granny I named this blog after is Dolly's grandma as well as mine. She was bedridden her entire adult life with what I believe is the same medical issue I am now facing. I have always been proud of Dolly, but this act of generosity has elevated her to a level of respect that is shared by everyone I know. She may truly be the Dolly Lama.