Gatlinburg we are praying for you.
My East Tennessee home is not far from this vacation destination that boasts decadent homemade fudge, ice-skating atop the mountain, twinkling lights for Christmas and pancake eateries galore. It’s just up the hill from the fabled land of Dolly Parton’s DollyWood and tucked into one of the jewels of our national park system- The Smoky Mountains.
But last night I watched as this quaint, idyllic resort town—where most go for rest and relaxation—turned into an inferno.
But this isn’t about a vacation spot being singed. To many people this is their home. And their houses have turned to ashes and their jobs have been decimated.
An unprecedented drought contributed to the Smoky Mountain National Park mountain range turning into a furnace. Last night wind gusts, blowing up to 80 mph spread embers and caused power lines to fall—igniting fire after fire. Over 500 acres of the National Park were ablaze.
An early-evening decision by officials to issue evacuation orders saved the lives of thousands of residents and visitors. 14,000 people were forced to leave the area as flames blazed. Hikers were rescued from the trails. Folks traveled down narrow mountain roads with embers blazing on both sides. Many didn’t know if they would survive the escape.
Early reports estimate that hundreds of structures including hotels, entire resorts, shops, and residences are completely destroyed. Many people left with only the clothes they were wearing, as the danger was imminent. Some were left searching for an escape within a smoke-filled hotel while flames threatened outside. But by the grace of God no fatalities have been reported.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent Cassius Cash, said in an interview to WBIR news, “I’ve been in federal service for 25 years, and I’ve fought fires on the West Coast and the East Coast and been with the Forest Service as well,” Cash said. “Nothing that we’ve experienced in the 24 hours has prepared for what we’ve experienced here in the last 24 hours. (It’s) been just unbelievable what we’ve experienced here.”
The National Guard, TEMA, Red Cross, fire crews and first responders from across the state have converged to help coordinate the effort to fight the fires and help residents.
My friends Lacey Martin said her husband—just like many other brave men and women –left the comfort of their homes last night to enter a life-threatening situation so they could help save the lives of others. Caleb, a National Guard member and local fire volunteer kissed her and their two-year old goodbye and said he might be gone for several days. Lacey says, “It scares me as his wife because I might not hear back from him until they head back home. It’s scary never knowing exactly what his role might be or what area he is located. It leaves me with so many thoughts!”
I’ve just been reading this book, The Question That Never Goes Away: Why? By Phillip Yancy about finding meaning in the midst of suffering. Yancy reminds us that God often shows comfort during suffering by the goodness of other people. This morning I read that one church opened its doors at 1:00 am to cook for emergency personnel and those in need. I’m watching as social media lights up with “How can we help?” pleas. I’m watching the town—that still says “Merry Christmas” become the recipient of prayer after prayer.
Last December I visited DollyWood for the first time during the Christmas season. The lights were gorgeous, a jolly Santa Claus greeted my children, and the rides were a hit. But the most poignant part of that trip was hearing real, Christ-centered Christmas carols unabashedly being sung in an amusement park. I got all teary-eyed as I stood next to my friend and remarked about the significance of this mountain town still proclaiming the love of Christ.
It’s the season of giving. And we owe it to this town and the emergency personnel to gift them our prayers during their season of heartache.
We pray for you.
People can make a $10 donation by texting “REDCROSS” to 90999.
Workers at the Knoxville Expo Center will accept donations for the impacted areas too. The Knoxville Expo Center will accept tooth brushes, tooth paste, water, baby wipes, dog food, kennels and more. The center is located at 5441 Clinton Highway in Knoxville. People can call (865)686-3200 or (865)919-8114 for more information.
Ryder Vehicle Sales is also accepting donations at its location at 7509 Strawberry Plains Pike in Knoxville.
Toys for Tots will have a sign up for victims and their families. The Toys for Tots phone number is (865)254-3911. Donation drop off is 2719 Northview Academy Lane in Kodak.
People can help the firefighters and emergency personal by donating water, Gatorade, or small individual wrapped snacks that are high in protein to our local Englewood fire station to be taken to the responders.
Feature image via Twitter – WBIR Channel 10
— WBIR Channel 10 (@wbir) November 29, 2016