Gatlinburg Fires

Kayley Pickens, Staff Writer

“The expected is just the beginning. The unexpected is what changes our lives.” -Meredith Grey, Grey’s Anatomy

Unexpected came just a little too close to home the Sunday after Thanksgiving this year. Members in the town of Gatlinburg, several who have lived there all their lives, along with new and returning tourists enjoying the view from the top, experienced one of the worst events ever recorded in Tennessee history. Wildfires raged across the mountains, leaving over 250 houses and buildings destroyed.

The tourists hoped for an amazing vacation in the mountains, like the kind that the people during the summer get to have. The excitement for getting the airbrushed tshirts or the delicious homemade treats that you can only get in the mountains. Unfortunately, the tourists got a dreaded surprise to remember. Around noon on Sunday, November 27, 2016, the sky started to fill with an orange-brown tinted smoke, slowly alerting the tourists that something was wrong.

The people who live in Gatlinburg instantly noticed that something was wrong. The orange smoke was a little too familiar to them, knowing about the chances for wildfire in the drought that Tennessee was having this summer and fall. The notifications about the fire were reported to never come to their phones. The people and the tourists started to flee as soon as they got the evacuation order when the notifications failed.

People were rushing to escape the fires before they made it to the town, but they were too late. The fires already reached the town by the time people were beginning to leave. There was reportedly a car on fire in the middle of the street during the evacuation. Over 14,000 people were evacuated during the “firestorm.”

The people who were left behind did not have much of a choice to leave. Fires crowded around buildings, trapping the tourists and residents of Gatlinburg. The Park Vista Hotel in Gatlinburg had dozens of people trapped inside, guests screaming and claiming that “fire was everywhere.” Thankfully all the people trapped in the hotel were safe and only had minor burns.

Other people were not so lucky. There are still people missing today, two weeks after the fire. One man is still searching for his two daughters, even after the news of his wife being found dead. Many people did not survive at all. There have been 14 people that were declared dead from the fires; this including men, women, children, and pets. The unexpected can be the best thing, but sometimes it can be the worst thing you can possibly imagine.