Two young people started a fire in the Great Smoky Mountains one night. Unbeknownst to them, Mother Nature would soon add 80 to 100 mph winds to whip up a catastrophic fire event in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. I know the media continually mentioned Sevier County, Pigeon Forge and Dollywood but the major damage from this event occurred in the mountains of the National Park and parts of Gatlinburg. Even downtown Gatlinburg was spared the devastation thanks to the heroic efforts of many firefighters. Fourteen lives were lost in this fire which, again, due to the incredible winds blowing the hot embers long distances and igniting fires in random spots. Fourteen lives, while tragic, could have been much higher in numbers without the efforts of all of the emergency responders.
I would tell you that the event was covered by our mainstream media. We heard about the devastation in Gatlinburg and Sevier County, the threat to Dollywood and Pigeon Forge. So much coverage about this devastation that businesses in the County, untouched by the fires, soon were asking the media to be more specific as they were open and far out of harm's way. So the event itself, the fires, was something many people heard about around the country and the world.
What people have not heard about much in the media? Two things I find quite important to point out; (1) What didn't happen during the fires and (2) the response to the disaster from the people in Tennessee and Appalachian Region.
DURING THE FIRES
No one looted stores. No one broke into businesses or homes. No one took advantage of the chaos but instead turned their energies to help others.
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People set up shelters. People came from far distances to help fight the fire. People collected bottled water, food, clothing and other items for those who were evacuated from their homes or worse, lost everything in the fires.
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AFTER THE FIRES
As the firefighters started winning the battle, people started collecting money to help those in need. Dolly Parton, Sevier County native, set up a fund, produced a telethon and has raised $9 million to date. Large area businesses like Food City, Fee Hedrick and others announced donations of $100,000 and more to help those displaced by the fires.
Businesses in the area were hurting as people stopped coming to the region during what is normally a very busy time, shopping for the holidays. Chambers of Commerce promoted that people please come back and enjoy Pigeon Forge, Dollywood, the various attractions with Christmas Shows. People coming to the area as planned was helpful as it kept businesses moving forward. We were in the region for four days last week and saw things were returning to normal for this time of year. That is extremely helpful to the region.
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A friend of ours in the attractions business lost his home. He had broken his foot the week before the fires and was already limited in his mobility. His son is autistic and a challenge when facing change. The fire almost killed he and his family. They got out but lost their home and personal materials. Between the Dollywood Foundation (giving those displaced $1000 a month for 6 months), his employer (helping him greatly) and the generosity of the region, he and his family will get back to a sense of normal but it will take time. Still, there is little media coverage of all of this effort because it is not sexy, or exciting or dramatic.
It is people taking care of their neighbor. Loving their neighbors through this horrific event. Notice that I did not mention how the federal government swooped in and saved the day? Did I mention FEMA? The people in Sevier County and the State of Tennessee did it again. This isn't the first time by the way. When Nashville flooded in 2010, the area took action helping those in need and put things in order long before any federal programs could organize. Even then, no one looted, broke into businesses or homes. People took care of the problem at hand, cared for those in need and then moved forward to insure this problem does not happen again. I will also lift up Charleston, South Carolina after the demonic shooting in the church last December. Instead of rioting and looting, the church and community brought people together. Well done.
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After this fire event, our national media should bring more attention to this amazing, caring State of Tennessee. Here, it is deeply rooted in our culture to care for our neighbor, regardless of race, age, gender, nationality because we still believe that --- Love thy neighbor --- God really meant that! Imagine if more of our country could react this way in times of weather events, natural disasters like tornadoes, hurricanes and earthquakes, how much better we would all be as a people. As I have said many times, people working together can achieve so much than just waiting for the government to organize in a disaster event. People helping people. Together, we are so much better.
Whatever you celebrate this holiday season, I wish you the best. In our home, we welcome the baby Jesus to our world. So, from our home to yours, Merry Christmas!
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