One Illinois family couldn’t have better timing.
One day after they left Gatlinburg, Tennessee, a devastating wildfire ripped through the city.
Tim Henson of Maryville, Illinois, decided to take his family to the Smoky Mountains for Thanksgiving. A family friend often vacationed there, and invited the Hensons to join them in Tennessee for the holiday.
“We did go through the national park, did a couple of the shows, stuff like that,” Henson said.
During their stay, the family learned about ongoing wildfires in the mountains — which were still a significant distance away. Still, the Hensons were curious and before they left Gatlinburg on Sunday, they drove to higher ground to take some pictures.
“And we were able to see a lot of smoke, but it was way far off ,” he said. “We noticed a haze but you didn’t smell anything.”
Just one day later, and after the Hensons were safely back in Illinois, everything changed.
Wildfire ripped through Gatlinburg this week, destroying several building and homes in the popular vacation spot. First responders issued emergency evacuations, and later reported three deaths resulting from the fire.
Henson said the resort where his family stayed sustained major damage.
“I was there Sunday morning, and now it’s pretty much gone, along with the actual cabin that we stayed in is no longer there — it burned down to the ground,” he said. “It just kind of makes a sick feeling in your stomach.”
Another local family wasn’t so lucky. NewsChannel 5’s sister station in Tennessee, WBIR-TV, interviewed a man vacationing in Gatlinburg from St. Louis.
He said his family left their lodging to get away from the smoke, but expected to return. Then, first responders forced evacuations and they were unable to return to their cabin to save their possessions.
Henson said his family enjoyed their time in Gatlinburg so much, he was considering a timeshare at the resort where they stayed. With the damage done, he said those plans have been put on hold, but his family does wish to return to the Smoky Mountains in the future.
“It’s a great place and I’m sure that they'll rebuild and I’m sure that they'll get back on their feet,” he said.