TN Wildfire Relief & Recovery
On November 28th, 2016, residents and visitors fled the town of Gatlinburg, Tennessee to escape the flames that that were tearing up the town like a monster that had descended from the mountains.
Mandatory evacuations were ordered and 14,000 people flooded the escape routes, some of which were blocked by burning trees that had fallen into the road. People frantically searched for loved ones, but eventually had to escape without them. Caretakers at Ripley’s Aquarium were forced to leave the animals behind and pray for their safety.
It is a day Sevier County, Tennessee will not soon forget. In the end, 17,000 acres were burned in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 2,400 homes and businesses were damaged, 134 people sustained injuries, and 14 people lost their lives, including 2 children. It was called the worst fire in Tennessee in 100 years.
Firefighters from around the area arrived, donations of food and water poured into the shelters that were housing thousands of refugees, and finally there was some relief in the form of blessed rain that helped quell the flames.
Once people were allowed back in to inspect their homes and places of businesses, some were met with the relief that their structures were untouched, including Ripley’s Aquarium. The animals were all safe. Others were not as lucky. Their houses and apartments were nothing but charred remains and many continued to search for missing loved ones.
This road to recovery is a long one. For some, life will never be the same, forever changed by losing someone they loved. That can never be replaced. Some homes were covered by insurance, but many were not and people throughout the southeast are doing what they can to help survivors heal and rebuild.
The resulting damage from the fires was estimated at well over $500 million. Many local businesses, large and small have made donations to help in the recovery effort. Most notably, Dolly Parton started the My People Fund which has raised $9.3 million, serving a total of 884 families. They will receive monthly checks to help with the expenses of relocating and replacing lost items.
It seems that anyone in the area that can help ease the massive task at hand is doing their part, including Rocky Top Furniture. “The Eastern Tennessee area has done so much for our company over the years, and many of our customers and friends were affected by the fires last fall” said Shawn Smith, President of Rocky Top Furniture. “We have been working hard to help those affected, especially those who did not have insurance.”
The place to begin was through the Sevier County Association of Baptists, and organizer Robert Nichols. Rocky Top was put in touch with Banner Baptist Church in Gatlinburg, Tennessee who was affected by the fires with the loss of their fellowship building, along with many of their neighbors’ homes along Beech Branch Road.
Days after the fires, power was not restored to the area, which left many wells inoperable. So Pastor Lamon of Banner Baptist Church and his wife Stella distributed bottled water throughout the community that had been donated to the church. They surveyed the damage to the homes along Beech Branch Road which included lots of downed trees and power lines in the road, which made it difficult to get around. They made it through some back roads to find the remains of many homes along those roads as well. That is when they spotted three children in front of what was, just days before, their home. “These kids proved to be three of the sweetest children you will meet. Even after what had happened they were still smiling,” Stella Lamon said. “They were thankful for the water and we talked for a while and discovered that they did not have insurance.”
Pastor and Stella Lamon knew they wanted to help, but did not know what they could do. Then through the local director of missions, Robert Nichols, they learned that Rocky Top wanted to donate furniture where it would benefit the most. “We were so excited to be able to help this family and they were surprised and elated about the donation,” Stella said.
“It was a basic human need that and we were glad to be able to meet that need,” said Vice President of Sales at Rocky Top Furniture, Brad Lewallen.
“Our customers are our family. We check up on them on a regular basis,” said Angel Best, Sales Director at Rocky Top Furniture. The people at Rocky Top Furniture were heartbroken over the wildfires, knowing that many of their customers and friends were affected. Best said, “We thought, well why don’t we help them get a bed to sleep in, or a dining table to have dinner on with their families?”
Rocky Top reached out to local missions and in total, donated $60,000 worth of their furniture to ease the recovery effort of families and help them rebuild a place to call home. Stella Lamon said, “Those three adorable children will have a new home and some new log furniture to enjoy due to the generosity of Rocky Top.”
Many families remain in temporary housing while they rebuild, currently leaving them without a place to store the furniture. Banner Baptist Church is renting a couple of storage containers to keep these items until they can complete rebuilding.
Through Banner Baptist Church, Rocky Top provided furniture that has helped a total of 9 families. Stella Lamon said to Rocky Top, “Thank you so much for your benevolent spirit and willingness to help us help others through such a difficult time. May God bless you for your efforts.”
To learn more about how you can help those affected, visit http://www.mountaintough.org
To learn more about the Sevier County Association of Baptists, visit http://seviercountybaptists.org
To learn more about Rocky Top Furniture, visit https://rockytopfurniture.com