Five years later | How a spread of wildfires restored same community it tore down

It’s taken five years to rebuild what was lost for so many from the Gatlinburg Wildfires, including the Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort.
Published: Nov. 29, 2021 at 7:50 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 29, 2021 at 11:06 PM EST
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GATLINBURG, Tenn. (WVLT) - Five years ago, strong winds spread unprecedented wildfires across Sevier County and in parts of the Smoky Mountains. Fourteen people were killed and some 2,500 homes were destroyed.

It’s taken five years to rebuild what was lost for so many, including the Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort.

“It was probably one of the darkest days of my memory as a professional,” COO Mark Waltrip said.

Five years ago, almost to the date, Waltrip told WVLT News he remembered when his team of 20 employees went head on with the Gatlinburg wildfires.

“They are the real heroes of this story, because they were able to successfully evacuate everyone down a two lane mountain road to safety without one loss of life or serious injuries,” Waltrip said.

As most of the property went up in flames he said a trapped elderly couple dropped to their knees.

“They layed at the bottom of the elevator and said their last prayers,” said Waltrip. “Then, the elevator burst opened and she thought it was Jesus. It was a long haired young volunteer fireman.”

After making sure everyone was safe, the resort didn’t waste any time getting back on its feet. New construction and units has nearly doubled its size.

“The job impact was just phenomenal to the local community. Think about all of the carpenters, electricians that had to be hired to build 1,250 units in a four-year period. It was unbelievable,” Waltrip said.

The growth is widespread. Amanda Marr with Sevierville Chamber of Commerce told WVLT News the national news of the wildfires drew in new dollars and businesses.

Existing ones expanded services in an effort to invite people back to The Smokies.

“We have seen a significant amount of growth in Sevierville and a lot of that has really come from investors being interested in our area,” Marr said.

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