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Category: Gatlinburg Fire 2016

The single most catastrophic fire Sevier County has seen in over 100 years

Smoke

November Writing Challenge Day 25 Smoke.  Not an easy one to write about, as we’re nearing the one year mark for the Chimney Tops Fire, but I’ll do my best.  Last year on this day there was smoke in the valley. There was smoke on the hills and hollers, both. There was smoke everywhere. It’s a year later and nobody can believe it. Friends from out of town ask how things are…and I don’t remember until I’m reminded. Life has gone on, pretty much as scheduled, since summer and green once again took over the hillsides. For me, anyway. But I’m not in Gatlinburg every day. I’m not in Gatlinburg at all.  I don’t see the devastation or the rebuilding in person. I’m not depending on the generosity of others to help me face another day as I struggle to have half as much as I used to. I was talking to one of my friends who works for dispatch the other day, and she brought up a new kind of post traumatic stress disorder that hadn’t even occurred to me. People who were right there in the smoke and the fire and the mayhem are having trouble being around it again. As you would. So here we are at the anniversary, and everybody’s memories are being jarred again and again by news…

Demands

Inferno: A place or region that resembles hell.   Two weeks ago the community was told that the state’s call record for November 28th had mysteriously vanished without a trace. Sound familiar? I won’t bring national politics into this, but it sounds suspiciously like another time citizens demanded answers that for some reason, couldn’t be supplied. And now we have the EMA director who was in his position for eight years taking a Operations Director position with a construction company. After a lifetime spent in emergency services, this is unheard of. Something tells me he knows the government has failed. He was the one on the phone with the state, pleading with them to issue an evacuation. The call was dropped due to cell phone towers being engulfed by flames and the evacuation warning never came. The state reasons they didn’t want to send citizens deeper into the inferno, which is a reasonable excuse…however, not doing anything proved to be just as lethal. Some people in the community are saying drop it so we can move forward. We’d be glad to, as soon as we know what happened. Or rather, what didn’t happen. How do you make your peace without answers? Regardless of what officials were telling people in the county, one thing is for sure: 911 was handling it the best they could. For all their training, nothing could prepare them for the night…

Aftermath

For the Mountain People I’ve been whittling on this since the day after. It seems I run a full mill of emotions as I work through it. It’s disjointed and twisty and repetitive but I’m leaving it as it is for now because that’s what it’s been like here-confusing and excessive and unsure. Maybe one day I’ll come back to it and get it right, but for now it will have to be enough to get it out. It’s been seven months and five days since the sun rose and illuminated what remained of Gatlinburg. Seven months and five days later…it is raining. And rain is appropriate. We’ll still take all we can get. Even on the Fourth of July. I say hooray because it will put a damper on fireworks activity. Fireworks start fires. I never TRULY believed that until my days at dispatch. Here’s what happens: It’s high summer, which generally means it’s been fairly dry. People drink all day, out in the sun, then they play with fireworks. They may possibly even hurt their fool selves, or the kids who don’t obey orders to “Get back!” (or maybe the kids were never even warned, or maybe it’s just bad luck). The dogs are barking, or howling, or quivering in the corner. The cattle and horses are…

Ongoing Efforts

There’s this wonderful place you can visit. It doesn’t cost a dime. And once there, the places you can go are literally limitless. This magical destination is the library. I know, I know, I’m the biggest nerd. But seriously. So tonight was the board meeting. And it was typical in all aspects, other than our chairman was absent so the meeting was conducted by my lovely friend (and recent partner in crime), Tracy. Things were clicking along, we were approving budgets for consideration of the county, approving fundraisers, discussing projects that are coming up. I reached for my regional report and found it stuck to the glass topped table. No worries. I’m sure it’s just barely tacked on there. I didn’t even have anything sticky on my plate. What is going on? I finally ripped it free, leaving several bits of paper essentially glued to the conference table. The director had to dribble water on it and scrub. I don’t know how I constantly find myself in these clean up positions. I’m like a three year old. Someday I’ll tell y’all about the gallon of Red Cell I dropped at the Co-op. Or the case of Hearty Hoof that I dribbled from one end to the other. Now, see, I am obviously not a prototypical board member. Especially one you would picture on the local library board. I&#8217…

Perspective

I’m having trouble understanding the people who are going to sightsee the ruined areas of Gatlinburg. They ogle, they take pictures, they take souvenirs of ash and more. They are trespassing on all that remains of many people’s homes.  I know people are curious, but melted aluminum isn’t “cool”, what’s left of the Castle isn’t “awesome” and the dregs of the apartments on Ski Mountain aren’t to be gawked at. I’m just sickened by what thrills certain people. I can’t bear to look…I still have trouble digesting how many people lost their jobs, their businesses, and their transportation.  That Monday night I sat in my living room, surrounded by my life’s work. I can’t fathom what I would try to make it out with. I have no doubt that Shug would get the dogs and hopefully a chainsaw. I’ve lived in this very house almost my entire life. It was built by my great-great uncle for my Grandmother when my momma was still a wee tot. I reside on what remains of the original farm. I know every inch.  My town has grown up around me. All these people have moved in and brought with them their restaurants and their way of doing things (namely driving entirely too fast and not waving when they see you working…

Honeymoon’n

You can ask just about anybody where their first date was with their spouse, and they can generally supply you with the name of the city and the restaurant. ‘Round here, it’s frequently “We went up to Gatlinburg.” It’s easy, it’s fun, there are no lack of things to do and see, so even if you don’t like your date, you’re in a pretty place with lots of fudge. I mean, how bad can it be? Y’all have heard about our first date before: hiking, no makeup, no heels, no dainty salad for supper. We went to Texas Roadhouse after scaling the mountain. The one in Gatlinburg. I ordered a barbeque chicken sandwich. Johnny’s pretty confident he got a barbeque pork sandwich. We’ve never been pretentious people. I had already warned him that I wasn’t a girl that ordered salads for a meal. Salads are what tide you over until the beef makes it out. And rolls. Mmmm rolls…. I digress. It was a pretty normal date, as far as dates go. He kissed me. (!) But I couldn’t tell you much else, I had stars in my eyes, and the fact of the matter is, I’m accustomed to the beauty of the mountains at this stage in my life. Johnny works in Gatlinburg a lot, as there’s typically some new building going…

Where You’re Needed Most

Board meetings, on the whole, are notoriously boring. And I hate to admit it, but the library is no exception…matters of a civil nature tend to be a bit dry. As I prepared for the one this evening, I tried not to dread it. I tried not to think of the things I needed to be doing that were More Important. Because, truly, I typically find my role as a public servant meaningful. As I headed out the door of my workplace, I called off-handedly, “I’m off to save Sevier County…one book at a time.” At the time I did not realize how fortuitous my words would be. First of all, we led with a prayer, which was wonderful and I had been thinking about that the whole way there. I had been wondering why we didn’t every time, but thought it might be against some rule since we’re a public meeting. But I thought today, of all days, we could certainly use one. So thank you Mr. Sarten! It’s like you read my mind. We’re taking care of regular business and in the agenda under new business is the innocuous heading “Recommendation by director to waive any fees for services for fire victims until further notice” This seems pretty obvious, as they can’t very well bring back a book that is no longer a tangible item. But this…

Volunteer Spirit

I never thought the sight of pallets would make me cry. I brought 11 from the shop….Food City brought this many: I sorted and folded clothes with the lovely & sweet Lanie Miller, AKA Miss Chattanooga, tonight at Sevier County Rescue Squad. She drove up by herself to help today & was turned away from two receiving warehouses but she was adamant to help! And I couldn’t bear to just drop pallets and leave when they had tents full to bursting…and I didn’t even lay eyes on the airplane hangar. I asked her why she wasn’t wearing her tiara & she said it was in her car. Cracked me up. I woulda had that sucker on for sure. I might wear mine Friday and make everybody think I’m secret royalty…

Being Thankful

My news feed is chock full of support, up to the minute info on where to help out, what needs still need met, and blessings from afar. I have a friend who is frantically planting trees and brainstorming ways to get them out when it’s time. I have friends planning agendas for the months to come to keep victim’s needs met. If you are told a certain place needs volunteers and you get there only to be turned away, I beg you to be persistent. Things change constantly. You should be able to look for yourself and see what needs done. Take out the trash. Put a bottle of water in somebody’s hand if they look a little parched. (You’ll probably need to open it for them. If they’ve been working with their hands, they will appreciate the gesture. Trust me on this one.) I believe we’re all doing the best we can and our adrenaline is wearing out and it’s just plain exhausting. Give them a prayer if you can. It’s impossible to have a plan for something of this caliber. If your news feed is filled with people bickering, complaining, and bitterness then perhaps you should reevaluate your friends. And if you can do nothing else~if you can’t find the willpower to pray~please spread the word that the county, the National Park, and the city of Pigeon Forge…

Volunteer Nation

I have lots of things to say about yesterday. I plan to open a blog today to get it all out of me, & will share the link as soon as I have it. For now, it will have to be enough for me to say that the outpouring of generosity from ALL OVER AMERICA is something special. I moved chicken cages with a local friend, Donna Parton, a teenager from Georgia, & two guys from Knoxville. One of them had a broken arm but he was still helping. I moved hay that was donated by a man from Jamestown with one of my old co-workers. His wife has manned the fairgrounds tirelessly since the county made the decision to open it to displaced animals. Thank you David Majors for answering my tears & pleading with a MUCH NEEDED fork machine. And Gary was a welcome sight. Thank you Co-op. It’s good to know people in the right places. Thank you Leanne Anke for taking the evacuated horses back to their home on your day off. Thanks to the businesses who are donating their people, their products, & their dollars towards this catastrophic incident. Food City had sent a tractor trailer full yesterday, Borden Dairy another, & I didn’t catch the names of several others in & out.   I spoke with a gentleman at the Rescue Squad that Lisega (the new factory on Dumplin Valley Road in Kodak) had sent on their…