A Middletown man who visits Gatlinburg, Tenn., four to five times a year said he is saddened by the loss of lives, forests, homes and resorts in devastating fires this week.
T. Duane Gordon is executive director and CEO of the Middletown Community Foundation. In his spare time, Gordon operates country singer Dolly Parton’s fan website.
“We go there quite often, and I know several people who live down there,” Gordon said.
“It was devastating,” said Gordon, who followed reports on social media from friends living in the Gatlinburg area. “I have friends who work in hotels and resorts there who were giving their accounts of evacuating guests as they tried to, once they finished that, get to their own homes.”
He knows one couple that lost not only their home, but also their dog, to the fires. When Gordon last was down there two weeks ago, wildfires already had been burning, “and there was some smoke in the air that you could smell at that time from some of the wildfires, but they weren’t threatening anything inhabited at the time. They were just up in the mountains, and they’d put them out. They’d start back up.”
Meanwhile, the InstiGlass company in Middletown has been established as a collection site for Tennessee families who lost everything to the fires, which have claimed at least seven lives and injured dozens.
InstiGlass, at 1955 Central Ave., will be collecting supplies until noon on Dec. 9. Donors are asked to call 513-571-9473 to coordinate daytime drop-offs. A wide variety of things are being sought, including all sizes of diapers; hygiene products; granola bars and other snacks; jackets, gloves, shoes, socks and other clothing; bottled water; canned foods; pet foods; and toys.
This week’s fires were unexpected, “and some people got out just in time to save their lives, and got out with just the shirts on their backs,” Gordon said.
“There are hundreds of families there that have lost everything, and it’s just heartbreaking to think that they have to start over with nothing,” said Gordon, who is among many across Southwest Ohio who love the mountain area with a combination of majestic forests and touristy areas like Parton’s Dollywood theme park and resort nearby in Pigeon Forge.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited of the country’s 59 national parks with about 10 million visitors per year — double that of No. 2, the Grand Canyon.
“It’s one of the largest natural preserves of land and wildlife still existing in the United States,” he said. “It is just a beautiful area to visit and take in the scenery, and vistas, and enjoy nature.”
“It’s just a fun place to visit,” he said. “It’s a popular attraction for people from this area because it’s only five hours away, so a lot of people here drive down there once a year, twice a year, for family vacations.”
Gordon said he knows one local family who recently sold a cabin they had for years. They don’t believe it was damaged, he said.
“I have a couple friends here who got married there, and the chapel where they were married was burned down in a fire,” he said. “They were posting on Facebook that the place that they had married was no longer there, and they had such great memories of the place.”
Another local family vacations every year in a cabin resort that was destroyed, he said.
“So there’s a lot of people here that have been impacted a little by what’s going on down there — certainly, nothing that compares to the devastation the people who actually live there are going through right now,” he said.
Gordon said the reports he has seen indicate fires came close to the Dollywood theme park, which closed down for a few days. Some cabins operated elsewhere by Dollywood were destroyed, he said.