At first I thought I was dreaming. I thought I was dreaming I was running through hell. But then I realized it was an inferno and it was all around me. The heat from the flames was so hot, it felt like it was cooking my skin on me alive. I could hear screams all around me mixed with the roaring sounds of the fire and the wind, but I couldn’t see anything because the embers were flying in my eyes. I just knew I had to run, I had to run for my life”. – Gatlinburg Wildfire Survivor
One year ago today, people were fleeing for their lives as their homes and those of their neighbors burned around them. Those that could get out on the roads found themselves trapped in a fiery mountain of flames and smoke; most abandoned their cars and tried running on foot. November 28, 2016 the Chimney Tops fires made their way down the mountains from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and into Gatlinburg and other areas of Sevier county.
Fourteen of our friends, neighbors and co-workers lost their lives in this wildfire. First their names appeared on list of those that were missing, or maybe on a prayer request from a family member or friend. Then one by one, they joined the daily roll call of those killed in the Gatlinburg wildfires. We want to remember them here:
• Elaine Brown, 81 – Gatlinburg TN
• Bradley William Phillips, 59 – Gatlinburg, TN
• Mary Evelyn Norred Vance, 75 – Gatlinburg, TN
• Constance Reed, 34 – Gatlinburg, TN
• Chloe Reed, 12 – Gatlinburg, TN
• Lily Reed, 9 – Gatlinburg, TN
• Jon Summers, 71 – Memphis, TN
• Janet Summers, 61 – Memphis, TN
• John Tegler, 71 – Atlanta, GA
• Marilyn Tegler, 70 – Atlanta, GA
• Alice Hagler, 70 – Gatlinburg, TN
• Pamela Jean Johnson, 59 – Gatlinburg, TN
• Robers A Hejny, 65 – Gatlinburg, TN
• Rev Ed Taylor, 85 – Gatlinburg, TN
That night was a night that many of us will never forget. The past year has brought many ways of helping the community to try and get back on its feet. From Dolly Parton holding her benefit telethon that raised enough money to give each person that lost their primary residence a total of $10K each, to thousands of volunteers who donated money, time, clothes and their hearts, the local community and others across the country answered the call to help those in need.
Over this year, we have taken you to a few of our favorite trails within the National Park as well. Some of these trails still show scars from the fire and some of our favorites such as the last portion of Chimney Tops Trail and the upper miles of Sugarlands Mountain Trail remain closed with no date in the near future of being opened back up.
Over the past year, we have also seen the rejuvenation of forest lands that are already beginning to recover. Moist coves and the northern slopes of many mountains recovered almost completely. These areas only had fire burn the leaf litter along the forest floor the remaining greenery left over from summer. The dry, southern slopes and rocky peaks, however, are a different story. Park officials estimate it will be over half a century before all visible traces of the fire are gone on the hardest hit areas, such as the southern exposure of Bullhead Mountain seen from the Carlos C Cambell overlook along Newfound Gap Road. Even here, though, new growth began to establish a foothold as the summer months lazily floated past. Soon they will be covered with species of trees and shrubs which thrive in the dry conditions, such as the table mountain pine.
We will continue to take you on our journeys within the National Park as we witness Mother Nature heal and rebuild our great mountains.