Like many in Middle Tennessee, Hendersonville High teachers and students have been affected by the wildfires that swept through Gatlinburg and the Great Smoky Mountains.
“We own a cabin at Gatlinburg and we’ve put a lot of money into it. We can’t call to see if our cabin is still there or not since all the phone lines are down,” said freshman Heather Gerleve. “From what I’ve heard, our whole neighborhood has been burned to the ground.”
About 14,000 people were evacuated from Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge on Monday and Tuesday (Nov. 28 and 29) after high winds fanned a rash of wildfires that left at least 14 dead and dozens injured.
The fires, which officials say were “human-caused,” damaged or destroyed more than 400 homes and businesses in Sevier County and consumed more than 17,000 acres in the area, which has been in a severe drought.
While recent rains have helped, firefighters continue to battle the fires, which they said were only about 10 percent contained because of the steep terrain. Many roads into the resort area were closed.
HHS nurse Sue Buckberry could only wait as the fire raged near her Gatlinburg condo.
“The condo was saved but a little motel in front of the condo caught on fire,” she said Thursday. “While the firefighters were putting out the fire from the motel, they wet the condo down so it wouldn’t catch on fire.”
The HHS boys’ soccer team was to compete in a tournament in Gatlinburg this weekend. Needless to say, the team won’t be making the trek.
“The complex we were going to use is being used by families as a shelter,” said freshman Eric Kohls.
Sophomore Patrick Finlin said he was disappointed the tournament had to be canceled. “I was really looking forward to it because my grandparents were going to get to come to see me play,” he said.
But like most at HHS, Finlin felt bad for people affected by the fires. Baseball coach Mike Hendrix said, “I feel so sorry for the people who have lost their lives, jobs, and houses. I’m so lucky that I wasn’t there and had to face that tragedy.”
The HHS chapter of Future Farmers of America is sponsoring a drive to collect water, food, and other items to help victims. The drive runs through Dec. 12.
In a Thursday email to HHS staff, chapter President Alyssa Capes said the victims need bottled water, non-perishable canned foods, pet food, blankets, winter coats, and personal hygiene items such as toilet paper, toothbrushes and deodorant.
“These will be collected in your second block,” she wrote. “If you would like to contribute, but have none of these items to give, we are accepting money donations, Walmart gift cards, and you can also text REDCROSS (all capitals and no space) to 90999 to donate $10 which will be charged to your wireless account.”
Capes asks that teachers place donations outside their second block classroom for FFA members to pick up during Commando Time.
Article by Lindsey Glowacki, Jensen Tabb, Ashley Baez, Kolby Hayes and Sarah Yi