Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Tennessee Wildfires

East Tennessee has been experiencing an incredibly bad drought this year. And with the lack of rain has come the unexpected challenge of wildfires. A few weeks ago our mountain had back-to-back fires that consumed over 1,000 acres and required an evacuation of one neighborhood.

Thankfully the fire was contained without damaging property or anyone getting hurt. For a two-week period fires burned on the mountains around us. Signal, Mowbray, Lookout and other surrounding mountains had fires blazing. At one point downtown Chattanooga had grass fires next to the interstate due to careless drivers throwing cigarette butts out the window.

(Chattanooga, image via WRCB)

You don't realize how big a deal this is until your city that is normally covered in a blanket of fog in the fall is suddenly covered in a blanket of smoke. Everyone was suffering from allergy-type symptoms from the smoke, and for two weeks it felt like you really couldn't get a deep breath of air.

Newfound Gap, circa 2001

But we were lucky. The big winds held off. Firefighters from other states joined the fight to contain the fires, and last night we finally got a good rain.

1st Anniversary Backpacking Trip: Anthony Trail to Spence Field, 2003

Before the rain arrived last night, the wind was something fierce. As we waited for the much awaited rain to roll in, Facebook lit up with videos and photos of the Smoky Mountain being on fire. As the rain started here, we realized that Gatlinburg was about to be engulfed in flames, with mandatory evacuations of the city late that evening.

Voyles Family Reunion, circa summer 2004

In the middle of the night I was up with Jack and happened to check Facebook again and realized that the winds we had experienced earlier that evening had wreaked havoc on the Smoky Mountains and this iconic town that so many of us know and love. I read reports of people being trapped and then thankfully rescued, as residents and tourists alike tried to escape the flames. Amazingly there were no fatalities and only a few hospitalized for burns, but the main strip of the city seems to be gone.

Backpacking Trip: Gabes Mountain Trail, 2007

I think I read that 450 buildings in the area were damaged or destroyed, with initial reports saying no known casualties and four people being treated for burns. The most recent report I saw said three had died – which is even more devastating than the loss of property.

Daniel's 30th Birthday Weekend: Clingman's Dome, 2010

Daniel and I have so many memories from this mountain town. Daniel has been visiting with his family since he was little and my very first visit here was with his family in 2001. We have a special place in our hearts for these mountains and we have no idea what is left of the town itself.

Daniel's 30th Birthday Weekend: Riding Four Whelers near Pidgeon Forge, 2010

We have celebrated anniversaries in Gatlinburg – our first anniversary and our 13th last December. Our first was spent backpacking on the Appalachian Trail, taking the Anthony Creek Trail out of Cades Cove up to Spence Field. At the end of that trip, we spent the night in Gatlinburg, thankful to soak our sore bodies in a hot tub and enjoy some of our favorite restaurants. As newlyweds, we also spent a significant amount of time hiking and backpacking in the Smoky Mountains.

Log Cabin Pancake House, 2010

On one particular day trip (2003-ish), we were hiking in the Laurel Snow Falls Area and we decided to make a spur of the moment overnight trip to Gatlinburg. We stopped at Goodwill for a change of clothes and Walmart for toothbrushes and deodorant. It's one of my favorite memories. 

Gatlinburg at Christmas Time, 2015

We have vacationed here with family – both in the summer of 2003 (I think) and Christmas of 2005. On that particular Christmas we had 19 family members in one cabin and our water stopped working on Christmas Eve. So we had to move to another cabin on Christmas morning. Even with the chaos of changing locations, it is one of my favorite Christmas memories.

13th Anniversary Weekend: Newfound Gap, 2016

In 2007, we were living in Charlotte, NC and met friends in Gatlinburg at the Log Cabin Pancake House before heading to the Gabes Mountain Trail for a quick overnight trip on the trail with friends.

13th Anniversary Weekend: Newfound Gap, 2016

In 2010, we celebrated Daniel's 30th birthday by renting a cabin in Gatlinburg for the weekend. We rented four wheelers, hiked to Clingman's Dome, and enjoyed many of our favorite activities.

13th Anniversary Weekend: Log Cabin Pancake House, 2016

Our most recent trip was last December when we took our boys with us for the first time. It was actually our 13th anniversary weekend, but I'm so glad that Jack and Isaac were able to visit once. We did many of the things we loved best. We froze at Newfound Gap, hiked to Laurel Falls, and had the best breakfast's in town. I don't know if, or when, we will be able to do that again.

(Gatlinburg, image via WRCB)

There are those who are from Gatlinburg who have lost so much. Friends with timeshares and cabins that are now gone. I am praying for those who are still in the area fighting the fires. Praying for more rain. And praying for those who have lost so much and will only have memories as they rebuild.

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