For the past half hour or so I have sat gazing with a blank stare on my face, looking at my computer trying to pinpoint the right thing to say; find the proper way of expressing how the apocalyptic-like fires spreading as if the gates of Hell are opening in Gatlinburg are profoundly affecting me, much less imagining what the residents of such an alluring town are enduring. Gatlinburg, Tennessee has become my second home over the past few years and knowing it is burning to the ground as I type this is utterly heartbreaking. There are places on this earth that hold a special place in our hearts. They are where we go to get away from the stresses of life, vacation spots and a place to find ourselves. Knowing we have these places to go to is a great feeling. Until they are gone…
A few months back, I wrote an article on why Gatlinburg is the best vacation spot and was on a much needed vacation there a few days after that. I never would have imagined that not even half a year later, my home away from home would be gone and the place that was once full of people, shops and attractions would soon be a ghost town dwindled down to nothing. Gatlinburg is gone. People are not asleep in their cabins. Fires are rapidly approaching Dollywood with the threat of that area also burning down and thousands of animals in Ripley’s Aquarium were left behind to die. I won't be packing my bags in the summer to go on my yearly vacation with my family. This unnerving realization has been on repeat in my mind all day and I cannot quite express how grim of a thought it has been to endure.
There is speculation going around that this was a man-made fire; that an arsonist burnt down a whole town with his bare hands not caring about the outcome and loss so many people would soon after be experiencing. It is sickening to know there are people like that in this world who would do such a tragic, careless act. Due to the drought Tennessee has been experiencing and strong wind gusts reaching up to anywhere in between 80 and 90 miles an hour, the fire has not fully been able to be put at rest and there is no sign of that happening any time soon. While we go on with our days and nights and take all we have for granted, many are wondering where they are going to live. Wondering if their loved ones and belongings are okay. It’s absolutely heart wrenching.
It is quite an eerie feeling imagining what the once busy roads lined with trees and wildlife look like now. These roads, these busy, busy roads no longer have any sign of life. How can this be happening? Is this all a dream? A really sick joke? It isn’t and there is nothing anyone can say or do to make any of what has occurred these last 48 hours better. The fire has reached all the way up the Smokey Mountains completely burning down Westgate Resort, which is where I would reside during my stays. I slept in the most comfortable bed a few months ago in a building that is now just a mere memory. I swam in an infinity pool overlooking the gorgeous mountains that are now engulfed in flames. I shopped all of the cute little shops and ate at the Alamo Steakhouse that are now just a huge pile of dust and debris. I pray the rain continues. I pray that instead of these fires moving through Pigeon Forge and burning more and more that a miracle happens and these fires stop once and for all. The Mysterious Mansion, The Alamo Steakhouse, Ripley’s Aquarium, downtown Gatlinburg, the Ski Lift that looks over the town of Gatlinburg and an abundant amount of other attractions that make Gatlinburg the special place it is are no longer existent. How though? I was just there a few months ago taking pictures to add to my repertoire of pictures I have taken through the years. They aren't just pictures, right? This can't be happening.
Some may be curious as to why this is such a devastating time for me if I don’t live in the area and why I am taking it so hard. Well, I live in a pretty big family with aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins all around the United States. Gatlinburg was the perfect spot for us all to be able to meet. Almost every year, my family would rent out a cabin or stay at a resort and have the most memorable vacations. I can honestly say that Gatlinburg, Tennessee holds the most important family memories I have obtained in my 22 years. My cousin got married on top of Almost Heaven Resort. It was the most beautiful wedding I have ever been to. I saw family for the first time since I was a year old. I got to meet my adorable baby cousins that live all the way in Florida. I got to ride a luge coaster with my extremely brave grandfather. So many amazing memories have occurred in Gatlinburg and I can’t believe it is all gone. Yes, they will rebuild. Yes, one day everything will be revert back to normal. But no matter what new and improved buildings, resorts, restaurants, tourist attraction areas are rebuilt, they are not going to be the same. Nothing will be the same.
I pray for those who have lost their homes, their belongings and their families and for everyone doing all that they can to put these fires at ease. I pray that this beautiful area can restore the liveliness it once withheld and that my family and I can go back in a few years and continue our traditional vacations. I pray Pigeon Forge can stay as normal as possible and the fires don’t get too far. I miss my family so much and I am thinking of you through this. I just am at a loss of words at this point. I will miss you Gatlinburg, Tenessee, I will miss you so much.