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Wildfires in, near Gatlinburg leave Miami Valley residents devastated


Updated 5:10 p.m.

Rod Good, a West Alexandria native, retired and moved to Gatlinburg in April. Good and his wife Tammy are the only ones who live full-time in their community that has 30 to 40 homes. The remaining homes are all rentals.

On Monday, the Goods were among the thousands of people in the area who were forced to evacuate. As they were preparing to leave their home, a newlywed couple from Kansas, Landon and Marcie Oelke, knocked on their door.

The Oelkes, both age 24, had no vehicle. They took a taxi from the Knoxville airport because they were too young to rent a car.

“Everybody told us it was a safe enough distance away that we should be fine,” Landon Oelke said.

The couple was watching television in the cabin when the power flickered and turned off. Landon Oelke saw a huge orange cloud, about 100 feet or so away, and became worried they didn’t have transportation to leave.

Oelke said he was walking around the area looking for someone with a vehicle when he found Goods cabin with a truck parked outside.

“They would’ve been trapped on the mountain if we weren’t there,” Good said.

Both couples left the area in Good’s pickup truck. They witnessed flames as they drove away from the area, Good said.

“It’s God’s intervention, that’s all I can say,” Good said. “There was some reason I was delaying leaving when she wanted to leave and God’s hand was on that couple. They wouldn’t have been here if it wasn’t for that.”

Good was able to drive his truck over some trees that had fallen in the road, according to Oelke. The whole city looked like it was burning, he said.

“We were very very fortunate to find Rod and Tammy,” Oelke said. “They were a godsend for sure.”

Now the Oelkes are in Nashville, Good said.

“I think for me they will be lifelong friends,” Good said. “I’ve asked them if they’ll come back when this is rebuilt. They said they will be back.”

EARLIER REPORT

A Gatlinburg, Tenn., wildfire that has destroyed more than 150 homes and businesses and displaced more than 14,000 has left some residents in the Miami Valley region devastated.

The fire, which Gov. Bill Haslam called the largest in the state in 100 years, led to three deaths, according to Associated Press reports.

The wildfire started Nov. 23 and is believed to have been the result of arson, according to Great Smoky Mountain National Park officials. The fire consumed at least 500 acres as of Monday and has affected the Chimney Tops and Bullhead Ridge area.

Terri Wyatt, a 43-year-old Greenville resident, visited the Smoky Mountains area Nov. 21 and stayed through Sunday morning.

“It was smoky the entire time we were there,” she said. “We could smell the smoke in the air. But the fires themselves, what you’re seeing now, didn’t break out till we had actually left.”

Wyatt vacations in the Smoky Mountain area twice a year and typically spends a lot of time in the park.

But not this year.

“As you’re heading up into the mountains, you can physically smell the smoke in your car. It kept us out of the park this time. The views were obstructed when you would get out to take pictures.”

Wyatt and her husband were married in Gatlinburg 15 years ago. They renewed their vows during their trip to the city last week. They’ve taken their children there for vacation.

“I went to bed crying last night and I’ve done nothing but cry all day,” Wyatt said. “For me this is devastating cause that’s like my home away from home. I want to retire there.”

Another Ohio couple vacationing in the Gatlinburg area lost everything they had with them when the cabin they were staying in was destroyed.

Toni Charles, a 69-year-old Xenia resident, traveled to Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort in Pigeon Forge earlier this month before the wildfire.

“My husband and I travel a lot, and I don’t think I’ve stayed at a more beautiful and congenial place than that one,” she said. “… that was my biggest fear, when I heard it, that something would happen to that hotel.”

AAA has recommended several tips for travelers planning to visit the Gatlinburg area including checking with local emergency management officials, learning the recommended evacuation route and packing an emergency kit.


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