Monday, December 5, 2016

The Gatlinburg Fires.... Pt 2 (Mike's discovery)

He promised he would be careful.  I knew there was no talking him out of turning around and coming home so I didn't even try.  I'm sure he got up at 6am and left without waking me just to make sure I wouldn't either 1) -try to talk him out of going... or 2) -try to go with him.  At this point, I had to just pray that God would protect him.

He called as he got into Sevierville.  He said he had stopped at a Cracker Barrel for some breakfast before trying to get into Gatlinburg.  Made a joke about how slow the waitress was and that G'burg would probably be rebuilt before he got his breakfast. LOL  Sometimes joking around is the only way to get through tough times and I'm always grateful for my husband's sharp wit and sense of humor.  It has certainly gotten me through some dark, dark days.   I always tell the kids, "Marry someone who makes you laugh!"... and I'm not kidding.  Laughter can truly be the best medicine sometimes.

After his breakfast, he started looking for back roads that might take him up to our mountain without going down into G'burg.  Around that time I got a text from my friend Elaine who was in touch with a common friend of ours, Julie who also owns a cabin up there.  I told Elaine to get Julie's address and maybe Mike could check on the status of their cabin too while he was up there.  Elaine sent the address and soon Mike texted back saying he was right there beside the community where Julie's cabin was.  He then sent a video that looked GREAT... all the cabins looked safe and intact and no damage!!   GREAT NEWS!   We now had our hopes up that our cabin too would be in one piece.  Mike said as he was driving closer to our mountain he started having happy thoughts of taking a selfie of himself standing in our cabin kitchen and sending it to me with the caption, "Everything is ok! It's still here!"

But then he turned onto the road leading up to our place and his heart sank.  

As he made the climb up the winding mountain road, he felt disoriented. All the landmarks that we usually use to know where to turn were gone.  Every single cabin along the road was burned to the ground.  Nothing but concrete slabs where beautiful mountain homes had been the day before.  He started snapping pictures as his heart started racing, in fear of what the top of the mountain would show.

One of the cabins below ours. Only a concrete slab and burned out car left.
A beautiful cabin called "Mountain Mist" was on this lot.
This was a whole row of cabins on the mountain behind ours.  All burned to the ground.
Our cabin was literally at the very top of our mountain. As the road winds up to the top the road dead ends into a T.  At that T, you go left to wind around to our cabin driveway, but as you sit at that T, you could always look straight up the hill to see the back of our cabin.  As Mike sat at that T, he looked up, and instead of seeing our cabin, he saw only the basement concrete walls, with smoke still smoldering from the ashes inside. 

He said his heart sank.  

He got out of his car and walked up the road, passing firemen that were still putting out fires in the railroad ties that were built into the mountain to sturdy the embankments.  He said they never even looked at him as he passed..... they knew Mike wasn't supposed to be there, but they obviously knew he was emotional and owned that home that was gone... so they let him pass without stopping him and just looked the other way.  His voice was shaking as he filmed this video. I know he was in shock.  It still breaks my heart to see it.

He waited until he drove back down the mountain to call and tell me.  I'm sure he knew I would be hysterical and needed to be in a safe place himself before making that call.  When my phone rang, I was just SURE he was going to be on the other line saying, "Honey, I made it and everything is ok!  The cabin is still there!", but it was not to be.

I answered, "Hi honey... where are you?".  "I'm at the bottom of our mountain down by the spur.", he said. Before he could say anything else, I anxiously asked, "Did they let you up our mountain?  Could you see anything?" There was a long pause, then he said, "Yes, honey... and honey....",  his voice started cracking with emotion..."honey I'm sorry.  I'm so so sorry honey... it's gone.  It's completely gone... there is nothing left.  I'm sorry honey." I started crying hysterically.  I just couldn't believe it.  How could this be?  "Are you sure Mike?!?   Are you absolutely sure?!?!??  No, Mike, NO."  "Yes, honey I'm sure, I saw it with my own eyes, and I took some pictures, but I'm not going to send them to you.  I'll show you when I get home but I can't send them now.  I just can't."

Our cabin is gone.  The "sister" cabin next door, a mirror image of ours is still standing. Unreal.
 "Ok," I said through my tears.  "Just please be safe and come home. I'm so sorry you had to do that alone honey... I love you... thank you... just come home."  And we hung up.

Our tin roof crumbled in a pile on our property where our cabin used to stand.
I sat on the couch in shock.  This just couldn't be happening, could it?  The elation of knowing the kids were safe had now turned into grief over losing the cabin that I thought was my gift from Dad.  It kind of felt like I was losing him all over again.  I sat alone in my living room and cried... no WAILED for about an hour.  This wasn't something that was supposed to happen.  All my dreams of spending family holidays and special times together in that cabin were gone.  The dreams of passing that little piece of heaven down to my children as a reminder of their Grandpa... gone.  The place I go for respite when I'm weary... gone.  Now what do I do?

I prayed to God... Why Lord?  Why would you gift us this beautiful place only to rip it away from us so violently and tragically only 11 months later?   Why?  Why us??

The next few days showed horrific stories coming out of Gatlinburg.  Family after family running for their lives.  Some of them made it out and some did not.  Even the ones that escaped with their lives had lost everything they own.  EVERYTHING.  Lives lost... lives shattered.... and suddenly my "Why US?" question took on a completely different shape.

"Why US, Lord?  Why were my children spared and others were not?"  The reality of the miracle of Derek and Emily's escaped started getting clearer and clearer.

What if they had just gone to bed early and not stayed up to see the transformer blow?  They had been watching the local news, had their phones on and yet... no emergency alerts had been given.  They thought they were safe up there.  My whole body shakes when I think about how this might have had a completely different ending had they gone to bed earlier as planned.

What if that tree had not fallen on their car?  They would have probably gone down the hill to dinner and NOT been able to get back to their precious pups, Quincy and Harris, who would have perished in that cabin.

What if the tree that fell on the car had not rolled OFF the car and they hadn't been able to drive off the mountain?   They would have been forced to try and walk down the mountain to get away and sadly many of the deaths I have heard of were because of that.  People trying to escape on foot and being overwhelmed by the smoke.

What if they hadn't SEEN the transformer blow out the window and noticed the burning embers?  They might have waited too long before driving down and found no clear routes out by then.

Seriously.... so many things went RIGHT in the midst of all the wrongs that saved my precious son and his new bride.  I have literally been ON MY KNEES in gratitude for the cues that were sent to them to get out when they did.  Whether it was God, an angel... or Daddy... someone was watching over them and I am humbled by that.  I truly truly am.

Why US?  I don't know.  I don't know why our kids were spared and others were not.  I don't know why we lost our cabin so violently.  I don't know why someone would start a fire that would ravage a town and all it's people.  These are all questions I probably will never have answers to... and I will have to be ok with that.

Many are asking if we will rebuild.  We just don't know yet.  Right now we are just taking it one day at a time, dealing with major insurance paperwork and still trying to wrap our brains around it all.  A part of me is still in denial.  But then I look at the pictures and know it's a truth I need to get used to.

One thing I have been reminded of through all this.  We are to hold onto ALL gifts in this life with open hands.  Everything is temporary.  Relationships, buildings, jobs.... all temporary.  When we hold on to anything or anyone with a clinched fist, we lose.  Walking through life holding onto our blessings with open hands enables us to receive.  We can't receive with closed, clinched fists.  Only with the stance of open hands.

So tonight, I stand with open hands.  Our beautiful home was taken from our lives, but we will go on and learn to find different dreams, different hopes, different plans for our future... in time.  Right now, I'm still in grieving mode, but I think that's healthy for a bit.  I need to process, but I won't stay here any longer than I need to.  Writing this all out is helping me process and accept.

I want to say a HUGE THANK YOU to everyone who has been praying for us, reaching out with calls, texts, messages, loving us through this difficult time.  We have truly felt those prayers and know we are being carried by you.... we feel so loved.  And that is the greatest gift of all.

Thanks for the memories sweet cabin... you truly were a gift to us.  A little piece of heaven on earth.
"Edge of Paradise on the left, the "sister" cabin survived.... Heaven's Gift on the right is now gone after the fire."

"Heaven's Gift- 1993-2016"


  1. My goodness, I thought my tears for your loss were surely dried and done, right up until I read Part 2. Marcia, thank you for your transparency. We've all known loss of one kind or another, and we may or may not be acquainted with the kind of grief you're experiencing right now. But we know that healing can only begin once you've had the chance to truly grieve. I too have wondered if you all would rebuild, but I realized it was a bit like when we miscarried our first child and people kept telling us, "Don't be sad - you'll have other children." And while I know their intentions were good, I wanted to scream, "Yes, but we need to grieve the loss of THIS BABY!" So you are wise to take your time and process all of the emotions and logistics of this loss. As I was reading your post, Ken came home from running some errands and on a back road, a deer suddenly ran out in front of him and he hit it before he could stop. The only damage was a broken head light, but it really freaked him out ... UNTIL he thought of you all and all those who lost so much last week, and quickly put it in perspective. So you see, you are still very much on our minds and in our hearts. Our prayers continue for you and Mike and Derek and Emily, and yes, those precious puppies who survived. Love you, my friend.

    1. Thanks for your understanding comments Diane. Yes, we know that we are blessed that the kids are ok, and that we only lost a building.... and that we can rebuild. But the knowledge of all that doesn't discount the loss we are feeling.. the hopes we had... the dreams we lost. Like you said, we need to grieve the loss of THIS baby. I am SO SO happy that Ken is ok after hitting that deer!!!! I have known many people who died in car wrecks from hitting deer that just jumped out in front of them. It is a scary thing!! Prayers of PRAISE for his safety tonight! Thanks again for all your support, love, prayers and concern. Love you... M

  2. Even after sustaining such a 'heart' loss, you look up. This story is a tribute to not only what your dad, and how 'our father' is still teaching you - and such a positive way to get through the grief. There is a reason. Cant wait to see what your next chapter is in this.
    (I had to smile when you told about Mikes joking antics. We sure do live in a parallel life! John is always joking with someone or me to ease my anxiety.)

    1. Thank you for your kind words my sister! Yes, we do seem to have many parallel experiences in our lives..... hope to see you again sometime! Love and blessings... M