Wednesday, November 30, 2016
Logan, an SCA Centennial Volunteer Ambassador who has worked for most of the year with the communities neighboring Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is among those temporarily relocated due to deadly wildfires. We spoke with him on Wednesday morning, November 30th.
What is your present situation?
We’ve been evacuated twice so far, first from park housing to a hotel in Pigeon Forge, and then when a spot fire erupted behind that hotel, we were moved to another.
I’d been working at park headquarters (in Gatlinburg) as part of a team there until the last minute, when they said “guys, you need to get out now.” I’d gone to my apartment just an hour before, to grab some of my stuff and put it in my car. The wind was so bad that law enforcement ﬂagged me down and transported me to my place as limbs fell down all around us.
As we evacuated out to Pigeon Forge, it was scary. The fire was blazing next to the road, some of our caravan had to drive right through ﬂames. The bottoms to some of our vehicles melted. Another SCA intern’s car was hit by a falling tree, but there were no injuries.
How long will you be relocated?
We were told last night we could go back into park housing, but there’s no way to get there. The road is still closed due to fires and downed trees. Last night we had a wildfire warning followed by a tornado warning. We heard there might be landslides, too, due to rain, so we’re taking it day by day.
It’s a little stressed and chaotic at the moment We are pretty much cut off from the rest of the park family and the command chain. Information is trickling through, from news releases and other sources. It’s been nerve-wracking not knowing if everyone is okay and if their homes are still standing. News reports say one minute that a particular building is safe, and then another report says it’s destroyed. I do know that one SCA intern who was living outside the park has lost her whole cabin, but she’s safe. Another volunteer and at least two-to-three park employees completely lost their homes and everything in them.
How are you all dealing with this?
One thing I’ve noticed throughout the chaos is the sense of community we have, the interns and the employees. The thing I love about the National Park Service is that we are a family. Whether within this specific park or if you’re from a park across the country, it’s great to see everyone pulling together and being so supportive. Through something like this, you discover your own strength and resilience and that of people around you. I’ve been coordinating our social media and it’s been great to see the outpouring of support from the community and across the country. It’s been amazing.
What condition is the park in?
There’s a big assessment taking place today but I haven’t heard anything yet. We kind of feel helpless being stuck in a hotel. We’ve been told to stay put and stand by but so many people are in need, with the Red Cross here and everything, we wish we were out there helping.
We have the Smokies Centennial Challenge-Hike 100 event scheduled for December 8th. A thousand people were due to come out. It’s hard to know right how things like that will be effected.
We’ll let you go and deal with this event, but what do you think will remain with you the longest?
Just the fear of not knowing where coworkers were. For a long time, only three of us made it to the first evac site and then they closed the Spur which is the road that connects Gatlinburg to Pigeon Forge and our way out of the park. We couldn’t get ahold of people to see if they had made it out of the park safely for hours. Of course, there was that ﬂood of relief when we finally got word. I’ll let you know as things progress.
Good luck to you and everyone affected.