I stayed up until four in the morning last night, my eyes glued to my computer screen as I watched a beloved part of my childhood go up in flames. Part The Great Smokey Mountains National Park burned and burned. I had seen the fire on The Chimney Tops earlier in the day, and that was enough to break my heart. Years ago, I climbed that mountain with my Dad, brother Joe, and my cousins. Last spring, my brother climbed that trail again to leave part of my Dad’s ashes at the very top.
Now the entire mountain is ashes.
Then the sorrow continued last night. A long drought, embers from the burning mountain, and winds gusting to sixty mph combined to set Gatlinburg, Tennessee on fire. Authorities fought over forty separate fires in the area and had to evacuate people who had become trapped. Some had to be evacuated on foot, due to the fallen trees blocking the roads. It happened so quickly that everyone was caught off guard. Forty people stuck in a hotel watched as flames surrounded them. A father begged on twitter for people to help him find his wife and daughter. A chilling video of people in a car trying to escape, driving down a road with fire on both sides. A haunting picture of an aquarium holding ten thousand animals that could not be evacuated with fire creeping up behind the building. A news report where one of the aquarium workers wept, so upset that he had to leave his charges. I could not look away from my computer, and I could not stop crying.
Information was hard to find. The major news networks were talking politics and ignoring citizens whose lives were in danger and whose homes were burning. I took to Twitter and local news from Sevier County to try to find out how bad it was, and if any progress was being made. News was spotty, and it was all grim. Eventually I went to bed, worried that there would be no Gatlinburg when I woke up.
Gatlinburg still stands, but so much is gone. The Mayor of the city was on the news telling me that half the city burned. Hundreds of homes, cabins, and businesses are completely destroyed. Much of the main drag survived. The iconic Needle remains. The aquarium was spared, and it’s denizens getting by on generator power.
The wedding chapel where I hoped to get married one day is gone, burned to the ground. The mini-golf course, Hillbilly Golf, where I played with My fiancé and his entire family is no more. This bonfire of treasured memories and dreams hurts my heart. Even so, I know that I am lucky. I cannot imagine the sorrow of those who have lost their homes and their livelihoods.
Social media last night was heartbreaking. People begging for help. Folks begging mainstream media to pay attention. People trapped and frightened.
Then came the support. Gatlinburg I love you, please be safe. Gatlinburg, my prayers are with you. Gatlinburg, I’m nearby and I have a horse trailer if you need help to evacuate your animals. Please everyone pray for rain. Gatlinburg we love you.
Sure, there was the odd political rant or crazy conspiracy theory, but those were far in the minority. The vast majority of Americans band together when the unthinkable happens.
And so I ask you to continue that support. Some of Gatlinburg’s people have lost everything but the clothes on their backs. They’ve lost homes, possessions, cars. Some of them have no job now that thier place of employment has burned. They need our prayers and they need our hope, but they also need our help.
This website has a list of ways you can donate money, clothes, etc to the people in need in Tennessee. Please help. Gatlinburg will re-build, but people need our support now.