KNOXVILLE —In recent news, wildfires swept through Gatlinburg , Pigeon Forge and the surrounding Sevier County area, resulting in blocked roads, downed power lines, fallen trees and destroyed homes and businesses.
According to Knoxville News Sentinel, a total of 14 people are now confirmed dead.
JUTN student Denzil Laughren volunteers for the Seymour Volunteer Fire Department, and during the past week has dedicated most of his time assisting in Gatlinburg or on standby at the station.
In the midst of balancing academic work and other responsibilities, the wildfire put a toll on Laughren and other first responders at SVFD.
“It’s been hectic— it’s been a toll on us both physically and emotionally and we know that as firefighters you put a lot of physical effort into it,” he said.”Last week, of 48 hours I got three hours of sleep and spent probably 26 hours in Gatlinburg or at the station on standby.”
With a lack of adequate sleep, the past week has been a daunting task for SVFD and surrounding departments.
Laughren recalled how it has impacted him physically and mentally.
“It’s a toll physically because we are drained and tired. Mentally it’s a toll because we know just how much damage has been caused and how much effort we need to put in,” he said.
Last week SVFD remained on standby and sent 2-4 men every night to assist in Gatlinburg. Earlier in the week it was confirmed that their services were no longer needed.
“We had several firefighters go up there and they said it was almost like driving through the gates of hell,” he said. “The smoke was so thick we had one of our trucks wreck and two of our firefighters were hospitalized.”
Along with first responders from SVFD, other departments such as Nashville and Chattanooga responded to the state of emergency in Gatlinburg.
“The last week and a half has been surreal how much time we had to spend up there and how much effort we put into it,” Laughren said. “It’s cool to see how they sent out one call for help and most of the state of Tennessee sent firefighters. In just a matter of hours we had over 600 firefighters on the scene.”
At this time, financial support and donations are still being accepted at SVFD in support of the Gatlinburg and Smoky Mountain area recovery.