The Gatlinburg Fires at The Chimney Tops
I have been thinking of a way to write this post for a few weeks now. If you know me or have been hanging around the blog for a while you know I like to post sweet creations and share tips so you can make whatever you dream of in your own home. Well, I’ve been quiet for the last month because my community suffered something that has changed things forever. It has changed the way I look at life and I’d like to share a little bit of information about the Gatlinburg fires that started at The Chimney Tops.
Several of you sent emails and Facebook messages to check on me and you’ll never know how much I appreciate it. I love you all and you’re a huge part of my life. Thank you for sharing this cookie journey with me.
It all started with a drought, dry leaves, strong winds, and a spark that killed 14 people, injured over 190 people, damaged and destroyed almost 2,500 homes and businesses, and burned over 17,000 acres. Gov. Bill Haslam said, “This is the largest fire in the state of Tennessee in 100 years.”
As the mountains burned they looked like volcanos with oozing lava flowing down from the tops. We knew it was fire, but since it was burning from the top of the mountain to the bottom it looked like volcanos I’ve seen on the news. Winds were reported at almost 90 MPH which is like a category one hurricane. The winds helped carry the fire to the tops of surrounding mountains which ended up burning anything in its path.
Dozens of people were trapped in the Park Vista Hotel in Gatlinburg and they could see flames almost touching the structure right outside the window. They laid on the floor with masks on their face because the smoke was so bad they could barely breathe. They couldn’t leave the hotel because downed trees blocked the road so all they could do is pray and hope the road would be opened so they could escape.
One mother wrote the names of her son and nephew on a piece of paper along with their ages and what state they lived in. She did this because the smoke was so bad she knew they would soon pass out and hoped by leaving the paper, someone would know who they were. She said she wanted them to pass out before they had to suffer more devastation then they had already suffered. Watching the news report is on of the most pitiful and heartbreaking things I’ve ever seen. Here is the news report if you want to watch.
The Gatlinburg fires weren’t close to us, but the community where we live had a few of our own. They caused emergency evacuations and burned down several homes. Fallen trees blocked the roads so some people were trapped and couldn’t get away from the fire. Propane tanks exploded and the power lines fell and led to power outages all around Wears Valley.
After the Wears Valley fire was contained, the local news showed a family that had to evacuate quickly as the fire approached their home. They escaped safely, but their home was destroyed. News reporters questioned the mother and she said she doesn’t own a toothbrush, but her family and pets were safe and she felt lucky and blessed.
As news reports came in Alan and I discovered that Reverend Ed Taylor, age 85, died during this tragedy. This was heartbreaking for us because he is the reverend that married us many, many years ago. I’m at a loss for words.
As of now, the fires are out, but the damage is all around us. There are burned cars, homes, churches, businesses, and huge black burn spots on the mountains all around the county. It looks as if they took away our beautiful community and replaced it with some kind of creepy movie set with lots of ashes and debris. My mind is still trying to realize this is the reality and not some movie that will be over in 2 hours.
The sad part about the Gatlinburg fire is discovering it was man-made. I personally don’t have all the details and couldn’t stay on top of the news reports with the power outages, but it has been reported the fires were started by two teenage boys, ages 15 and 17. Reports state they were playing with matches at the Chimney Tops. Again, I’m at a loss for words.
As I think of all the damage that the Gatlinburg fire caused and how much Sevierville suffered I now have new memories, but not the kind of memories you might be thinking about. Yes, I’ve seen sadness, but I’ve also seen so much love, kindness, and hope. I’ve seen people who showed up from surrounding counties and states to offer any kind of help and support we needed. They sent clothes, food, water, firefighters, and even volunteers to help with shelters for those who needed a place to stay.
I can’t begin to describe all the hard work and love I’ve seen since the day after Thanksgiving. You can feel the love and kindness in the air.
Dolly Parton also set up a “My People Fund” to offer those who lost their homes in the Gatlinburg fires $1,000 a month for six months to remove some of the financial pressure and help them get back on their feet.
Images of firemen, rescue workers, State Troopers, The National Guard, medical personnel, power workers, men with chainsaws, and little kids carrying boxes of donated goods fill my heart with warmth. Seeing everyone work hard and being friendly and generous is something I will never forget. People who lost everything are helping their neighbors before they begin to think about themselves.
I don’t know if we will ever know the truth about how the Gatlinburg fires spread. Did it start at The Chimney Tops with two boys and a box of matches? We don’t know what will happen to the boys and how the families of those that lost their lives will move forward. I pray they know God and let him help comfort them in their time of loss.
I hear people all the time talk about what this world is coming to. About all the anger and hatefulness and it makes me sad because the bad always seems to outweigh the good. Well, not today. Not in my community. I have seen good, kind, loving, generous, strong and hopeful people show up ready to serve. Ready to make life better for those in need. Ready to rebuild. This doesn’t just apply to the fires here in Tennessee. I’ve seen it over and over on the news talking about those who have suffer hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes and floods. People are strong and we have a will to survive, but most of all, we have each other.
Never underestimate the power human kindness!
I’m back in the kitchen baking and decorating so I’ll share some goodies with you very soon. Thank you for your support and caring about each other.
We pray daily for you and all communities that face atrocities. We love you and Pray God will watch out for every one. God Speed
Thank you Tamara! I feel the prayers working everyday!
Thank you so much!
My heart hurts for you–for all of you who have lost so much. But how wonderful that you can see good in all of this. Prayers for all of you and may He give peace where there is sorrow.
Thank you Kathy for the prayers. That means so much.
Wow! I am at a loss for words! I agree, Kindness is free; it is the best gift you can give yourself and others. Please keep us posted on what we can do to help or ways we can donate. I agree we have each other, and that is what is important. In the meantime, I will pray. Thank you for taking the time to help us to understand the situation and the power of human kindness.
Thank you Karyn. Kindness is free and there are so many people in the world giving it everyday. They are my heroes and I hope I can follow in their footsteps.
I’ll keep everyone up-to-date on the recovery process.
I have thought about you daily as well as your community and my heart breaks for all that you all have been through. As horribly tragic as this all has been, to know that people who have nothing have reached out to help those also in need meant a great deal to see and you are so right that with people talking about so much negativity in the world right now that at the heart of what is important is the power of human kindness and how very far it can go.
I will continue to keep you all in my thoughts and prayers as your community heals and thank you for being one of those that makes a difference for others.
Thank you Tracy. We are Smoky Strong and we will come out on the other side stronger.
Thanks for sending prayers! 😉
My heart breaks for the loss around you. My husband went to college in Powell and we have fond memories of time spent in Gatlinburg during our engagement. Thank you for this post, I will start praying for these people.
Thank you Leah. Gatlinburg will be beautiful again. People will build new homes and businesses and we will grow closer and stronger in this community.
I’m so glad you and your hubby have wonderful engagement memories. When my hubby and I started dating we would go to Cades Cove every chance we would get just to see the wildlife. As a matter of fact, we still do. It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.
I look forward to watching Sevierville grow stronger. If you and your hubby ever come back for a visit, let me know. We’ll get together and have a cookie. 😉
Lisa – my thoughts and prayers are with you and your community, as well as they boys and their families who may have started the fire. How would anyone get over taking so
much from so many. Thank you for showing us all the good and wonderful people that have stepped up to help. God is Good!
I agree completely Kim. God is Good and I hope the boys know Him.
I can’t imagine what their families are going through. Since the boys are under the age of 18 not much is being said about them. I hope everyone will keep praying for them and their families because their lives are forever changed.
My heart break for East Tennessee. I spent a great deal of time there and know personally that there’s a spirit in the people that overcomes all, that’s what will pull them through. Your post is beautiful, Lisa. I believe there’s more good in the world than bad, sadly the media believes the bad brings better ratings. God has His hand on His people and their land in one of His most beautiful places, May this new year bring much healing to the people touched by these fires and to the land devastated by the flames.
Thank you so much Lisa. Your words are beautiful and I agree completely. People are strong and can overcome and even grow after experiencing something like this. I know I’ve seen a lot of love and kindness in strangers reaching out to help others. Its amazing to see the love and strength.
So tragic and so senseless….. Thoughts and prayers for all those who have lost so much. Hopefully the kindness of generous people will out weigh the tragedy that so many have suffered.
Thank you Mary Ellen. Human kindness will win. We’ve all been touched by the kindness of strangers at some point in our lives and it’s up to us to pay it forward.
If you look at all the donation centers here you’ll see people are good. The centers are overflowing with clothes, water, household items, food, toys, pet food, personal hygiene items, contact solution, and so much more. It’s amazing to see how many people are sharing what they have with those in need.
People are donating time to work the shelters and help people with the supplies. People are even working at shelters to help the pets in need. I see blessings everywhere! It truly fills your heart.
My heart breaks for you all. I’m in North Georgia and it was devastating to watch. Prayers continue for you all. Praying for comfort.
Thanks for your prayers Christine. They are greatly appreciated.
The news here is still covering everything and they’re asking for more volunteers. Since we are the volunteer state I know we will have more than enough!
Thanks again for your prayers!
Lisa thank you for sharing this with us. I’m so thankful you and your family are safe. Much love and many hugs to you!
Thank you Christine. Hugs and love are the perfect thing to send to this community. We all need love and we all need hugs. I’ll pass your gift along to everyone I see.
Thank you for your beautifully written post. The fires and devastation are no longer in the news. This tends to make us forget what others are going thru. I live in North Carolina which has had fire and flooding this year. We all need to be mindful that families don’t repair over nite, especially when loved ones are lost. Please continue to keep us updated. Also know that you and your community are in my prayers.
You all have had so much bad weather. Hurricane Matthew hit you guys really hard. How it the recovery going?
I’m sure many people are still without homes, jobs, and are trying to rebuild. My heart breaks for you and your state. I pray you all will be able to make your lives stronger and learn to lean on each other as you move forward.
I saw on the news you all had thousands of acres that burned. Is everyone safe? I saw that some of the wildfires were man-made and they were looking for the people responsible.
I can’t imagine the clean up that needs to be done with both fire and floods. Just know your not alone. We will pray for you all to recover and heal from all the destruction.
For someone like me far away in Houston you put skin on the story big time! I got a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye reading your post. I knew it was bad but this really showed my how terrible this fire was. My husband is from West Tennessee so we do feel a connection. Even if he wasn’t we feel a connection as American’s. May God heal the broken hearted and the land we all love. Thank you for your post and your love of people and for sharing your beautiful talent with us. You inspire me!
Thank you Susan. If you and your hubby ever come to Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge, let me know. Maybe we can grab a cookie and some coffee. 😉
I had no idea this had happened on your side of the ocean… I was totally stunned reading your story. It must have been a nightmare. I hope you and your community will stay as close and as strong as you has proved yourselves to be, and will be able to heal..
As I read this I wept. My tears are for you, your community, all the families that lost so much,all the volunteers and fireman, policemen and policewomen, medical staffs, etc…and yes, I even wept for the boys who could’ve started this and their families. I truly believe that God wants us to pray for everyone involved and that includes them. There is much healing that will come in the following weeks, months and beyond. Our God is an awesome God. He is so loving and so forgiving and I am reminded and thankful daily, of His Grace.
I am so deeply sorry for the loss of your Reverend. What a tragic loss to everyone.
We vacation in Gatlinburg often. It’s one of my most favorite places. I’ll miss that, at least for a while.
I will continue to pray for you all. For healing, understanding and forgiveness, because I know, for some, forgiveness will be hard.
Tennessee people are wonderful. The most friendliest and kind people I’ve ever met. You all will overcome, with God’s Grace, love, and guidance. Please let us, your followers, know if there’s anything we can do to help. Love you bunches! God bless you and yours always!
You brought tears to my eyes Melissa. Your words are beautiful and true. We must forgive others so we can heal. I’m so grateful there are people in this world that would risk everything to help other escape bad situations, The image of the State Troopers helping the elderly evacuate will stay with me forever. The photo is showing pure kindness and love.
I’m so grateful for those people who showed up to work and help. They will never know how many lives they have touched.
Don’t stay away from Gatlinburg very long. We need visitors. When you do come back let me know. We can get together for coffee!
Hubby informed me we will continue our planned vacation in June or July. ..yippy! Can’t wait to have coffee…and a cookie of course! 🙂
I’m looking forward to it Melissa!
Thank you for this post … so heart wrenching. We visited Gatlinburg for the first time as a family this past June. The resort we stayed at is now gone. I can’t imagine what this loss is like … such beautiful country. Sending love, hope and prays for healing.
I’m so sorry for everything that has happened. I did not realize that you lived in the area. Although there was great losses, it’s wonderful to see people come together in a time of need. There are always great opportunities in the midst of tragedies. Wishing you and your beautiful community the very best for 2017.
I would love to help plz send and address to where we may send you so help!! Thank you and prayers for you and your community
You can make a donation to the “My People Fund” that Dolly Parton set up. The money goes straight to the people who lost their homes. They will receive $1,000 a month for six months to help them get back on their feet. Here is the link: https://dollywoodfoundation.org/
Thank you so much for helping!
My heart breaks for you and your community in reading this. I will say a special prayer for you all. May God give everyone peace during this time of rebuilding.
Thank you Jenni. Let’s pray for peace and strength for the months to come.
God Bless you all!! We lived in Florida in the 90’s during all of the fires. It looked like a scene from a horror movie. But as time went on, beautiful trees, foliage etc… reappeared and Gid gave everyone the strength to move forward.
Thank you Lisa for your poignant words about the hurt and sadness of those days. It was so beautifully shared from the heart. My prayers are for all those Who experienced the pain and those who reached out to comfort and support them. Your personal story gives testament to those who lived this and will heal and bring life back to your area. Thank you for sharing so deeply from your heart.
You have been in my thoughts and prayers since last hearing from you when you reported back that you and your family were spared. Thank you for showing the rest of us what the news does not.
Here in Missouri we were told of the fires in Gatlinburg, and shown its destruction, but NEVER were we shown the kindness and generosity of others helping those in need after the flames were doused.
When Ferguson, a small suburb of St. Louis where I grew up and have fond memories, made National headlines for a police involved shooting, we were bombarded with images of hate, fighting, mass rioting, police being attacked with pipe bombs, vandalism, cars burned, and businesses destroyed. The riots and subsequent fires, shootings, and mass destruction caused by people who didn’t live in the community or even the state of Missouri (of those arrested, over 90% were from a state other than Missouri). Eventually, the cameras, reporters, and television crews left…but what wasn’t bombarded on every news channel outlet was the community coming together afterward to support and comfort one another, people pitching in to help with clean up. If the News outlets had stayed a little longer the rest of the world would have seen that kindness and support will always win over destruction….whether it’s “natural” or “man made”.
What a beautiful post Lisa! It is true – that out of something bad comes something good. This has happened time and time again here in Oklahoma. I’m so sorry to hear about the reverend that married you. And so sad to think of the natural beauty in that area that we gasped over while we visited there is all gone. Dolly Parton’s generosity is truly inspiring. So glad you and Alan are safe and I know you are all doing your part to help those in need, that is the kind of people you both are. Hugs to all!
Lisa, I had no idea you are from this area. Our hearts and prayers are with you. Having been spared by the floodwaters that surrounded our community, I collected many clothing and scrub items which have not been used. I would love to find a place to receive them for the people of TN. If you have any contacts, I would be happy to work with them to get these into the hands of people who can use them.
These fires didn’t make the news in South Africa or Belgium, so this is the first I read about them. It brings back memories of almost 2 years ago when we were ready and packed, but luckily we didn’t have to leave. A mountain on fire is scary, it is scary to feel the heat, it is scary to hear the flames, it is scary to see the embers flying through the night. But as you say, it brings out the best in people and can really bring a community together. I wish you all the best, and you will be in my thoughts.
Lisa, I am a former resident of Sevierville and Pigeon Forge, so we watched the news avidly and prayed through the worst of it with you all from here in Atlanta. I know about where you are, so I thought you were okay, but we have many other folks who were closer. You are right that the news moves on but the reality doesn’t leave as soon as the news crews do.
We were so proud to see the stories of love, compassion, and faith come out of the folks there. It seemed a big difference from when tragedies strike other places. Love and prayers to you all!
Thank you for sharing this, Lisa. I’m so sorry for the loss and devastation in your community and pray for strength and healing for all who suffered. I’m glad you and your family are ok and wish you the best.
Thank you Tricia for the prayers. There are so many volunteers working hard to make sure everyone is alright. We need to focus on long-term housing for people. That is the biggest need right now.
Lisa, thank you for this post. This was a horrific tragedy that won’t be soon forgotten. Sometimes, in the thick of all the sadness, we can forget that inherent goodness can be found.
Your so right Gail. Tragedy sometimes helps you see the good that is right in front of you.
Hi Lisa, Like everyone, I was sad to see the news of the fires on television, and my heart goes out to all effected. It is wonderful how tragedies bring out the best in people and can restore our faith in mankind. I am glad you are safe and your property was not damaged. My condolences on the loss of your Reverend and your community. Take care.
Thank you Joan. Tragedies change everything, but with faith, kindness, and hard work people can make a positive difference in many lives. I pray we keep our focus in the right places and keep lifting each other up. I know things will work out and we will be strong again.
Lisa…Wow these pictures are crazy.
Your blog detailing acts of kindness, people rising above these HORRIBLE things, causes me to weep even as I read it. Still praying for the people effected by these fires.
Lisa, first let me say we have prayed for and will continue to keep all the people affected by the fires in our prayers. Thankful you and your family are physically ok. The Smoky Mountains were a huge part of my Mom’s childhood and continue to be in my life as well. I was born in Tennessee and have a deep love for the place and the people in it. My husband and I traveled to Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge/Sevierville right before Christmas. It was just so sad seeing all the devastation from the fires..but the people! So full of hope and gratitude! As we ate breakfast in our favorite spot in Gatlinburg, our server was telling us of her own family’s experience escaping down from the mountain. We told her we had been praying and she said she knew people were praying because she could feel them working. As my husband left her quite a generous tip, she broke up into tears. She thanked us for the generosity and prayers..I just wanted to give her a hug and tell her everything will be alright. But I think God had already told her! May God continue to heal your hearts. Love, Karen