Well if you’ve been anywhere near the news lately, you know that over 17,000 acres of the Smoky Mountains have burned in a wildfire. Our farm is just a stone’s throw from the Sevier County line, but we are about an hour from Chimney Top, where the fire started. Two weeks ago was the first time Sadie and I went over the official fire plan, what we would take, where we would meet if we got separated.
The forecast called for rain that night, but in just a few hours the wind had picked up and spread sparks all over the mountains. We could smell the smoke from our house. I kept standing outside, scanning the sky for the sight of embers. It was terrifying. We planned on opening gates to let the horses out, turning the pigs and chickens loose, and packing the dogs and cats in the car. But what can you take? How can you pack up an entire farmhouse? What if we left and came back to land charred and scorched, without our home, or the familiar outline of the old barn on the horizon?
The fire jumped roads and rivers, it leveled homes, buildings and cars. You can’t stop something like that. Firemen from all over the country worked overtime, they risked their lives to try and contain it. But coming off months of drought, with high winds, all you can do is get to safety.
All I could think was to get the dogs and cats and get on the road. And that all I wanted to take was my Uncle Jack’s knife, our land survey, and the door frame that has our heights marked in sharpie. But what about my favorite boots? The quilt on my bed that’s older than I am? All the pictures? Sadie’s shotgun that Jack gave her for their anniversary, my books, Nana’s paintings, a bottle of beach sand from my brother, all the letters and cards I have saved from over the years…?
Of course these things are nothing compared to our lives, or the lives of the animals we are responsible for. But they are what make my life mine. I love this farm life, and I still can’t believe that I get to be a part of it. I wake up every morning and look at the mountains fading to the horizon, over fields cut by the creek, and surrounded by fences I’ve repaired with my own to hands.
I’m proud to work this land with my Aunt Sadie, everything we own is on these 18.75 acres. And all of that could be lost in a fire. This land is more than land to me – my Mom grew up here, and now I am thankful to call this farm home. I will never take these things for granted.
But the wildfires have already begun to fade from the national news. The curfew was lifted last week, and people are returning to Gatlinburg to see what is left and what is gone. Sadie and I made the drive up through the mountains on Saturday, we took a dear friend of hers home from the hospital, and neither one of us knew what to expect.
Ric lives on the very end of what’s called the strip, a small two lane road surrounded by shops, restaurants and hotels. There are tourists walking the streets year round, and it’s a popular skiing spot in the winter. Sadie and I have been several times, we usually take my younger cousins, and there are always plenty of people to watch walk by.
The strip was all lit up, but the surrounding mountains were black with soot. The wooden sign welcoming you to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park was over halfway burned. Several cabins just hundreds of feet away were reduced to cinders and ash, sometimes only chimney’s remained. We saw cars reduced to twisted metal shells, fallen trees, and the smell of smoke and soot hung in the air. Pulling up at the apartments, we saw a home burned to the foundation, it sat just a few hundred yards away.
Outside of the apartment there was a red X spray-painted on the concrete, marking that the first responders had searched the building for bodies. They had kicked the door in – it would close, but it wouldn’t latch. Neighbors came out to greet Ric, hugging him, telling us they were thankful he was okay.
I’m learning that East Tennessee is a bit different than most places around. Since the rain helped to contain the fire, donations have poured in – many of the shelters had to turn away clothes and bottled water because they didn’t have anywhere to store them. People have opened their homes to their neighbors who don’t have one. Dozens of stores have started toy drives to ensure that families who have lost everything can still have a Merry Christmas.
Sadie and I are so blessed, we got several days of rain and I know that it came just in time to help the fire fighters. But I won’t forget that night where the wind howled around our house, and I knew there wasn’t anything we could do to stop the fires that may have spread to our home.
If you want to help the folks in Gatlinburg who have lost their homes, please donate. The wonderful Dolly Parton is hosting a telethon tonight, you can tune in online or on TV. Please consider giving to help some of our neighbors in these Great Smoky Mountain’s!
From our farm to yours, these Green Acres are an amazing place to be.