The first report of fire was on November 23 in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Within a few days, a town was destroyed, 14 people were dead, and more than 175 others were injured.
Jasmine Marple, an Odyssey creator for the Knoxville, Tennessee community and resident of Gatlinburg, watched flames engulf her town as she and other town citizens begged for rain.
“The thing that we wish would go away is the images, what we’ve seen and what happened,” Marple said. “You can’t erase the images. They’ll always be there.”
Marple was at work when she first noticed that the entire sky was a blanket of smoke. She didn’t believe it was serious at first until she saw the fire spreading from the top of the mountain at her friend’s house. That’s when her out-of-town family and friends started calling her, and more importantly, she remembered her dad’s house was in the way of the firestorm.
“I didn’t think it was going to reach the extremes that it did,” Marple said. “That’s the scariest part, you don’t know what’s in store when it comes to fires.”
She and her brother raced to their dad’s house to ensure his safety. Trees were snapping and falling onto houses nearby, including her dad’s. “The tree had fallen at the beginning of his driveway on the mountain and they couldn't get out,” Marple said. “The tree was too big for him to move on his own, so there was no way of removing it quickly.” They all evacuated to safety, and the fire did not reach her dad’s home.
The only other thing Marple had the power to do was to write about her experience and reveal its devastation to her beloved hometown.
“I initially wanted to write a poem about the smoke and the fires, and when it ended up escalating, I just put my thoughts together and submitted it,” Marple said.
Her post quickly gained traction within just a few days, and gained over 6,800 shares after she submitted her unsettling article:
I want to be superwoman, I want to save and help them all. For many days The Book of Revelations has crossed my mind. All of these destructive disasters are incredibly close, leaving behind hurt and mourning. My anxiety is high, I feel like I can't breathe. Everything is happening so fast--damn it, where is the rain?
Marple received dozens of comments from people even outside the town thanking her for sharing the story. The positive feedback was overwhelming.
“I became very emotional because I was grateful that I could reach out to others,” Marple said. “For them to know what was going on was even more empowering.”
Her town is now rebuilding, and Marple plans to write another post detailing the aftermath. Mostly, she says, the town needs money and other resources to help them heal.
“A lot of that money is going toward essentials; there are still people in shelters. Our goal now is to get people into homes so they are back to normalcy. That’s the thing that people overlook,” Marple said.
In a recent Facebook update, Marple thanked all the EMTs, firefighters, police officers and volunteers that have helped keep the people of Gatlinburg safe, and called upon other Gatlinburg citizens to do the same:
Lastly, I want each and every person to know that they are not alone. My sorrow for each and every person that lost everything is unexplainable. My heart aches for you. We, as a community, will come together and help you back to your feet. The images, terror, and uncertainty has been felt as whole. Your families are in our thoughts and prayers. I pray that the nightmares go away and the constant images in your mind dissipates. I pray that you find peace and comfort, and that you never lose hope. We will stand again, together.“This journey has been extremely hard and emotional,” Marple said, “but my mission now is to fight to help people get back to normal. We can get through this, and we will.”