Great Smoky Mountains destinations recover from wildfires

GATLINBURG, Tenn. (WKRC) - It's been nearly three months since a firestorm swept through Gatlinburg, a popular vacation spot for many Tri-State families.

The images of the damage the wildfire left behind were hard to forget. People couldn't miss the scars left behind from the fires but visitors were returning in record numbers. Scott Thomas is a Springfield, Ohio native living in Gatlinburg. He never imagined his dream retiring in the Smokies would be crushed when the fire took his home in the hardest hit area of Chalet Village.

"The tears of sadness within one week turned to tears of joy because I had a church group from West Knoxville drove clear out to where I was staying and brought two giant boxes of brand new clothes from Champs and Foot Locker and I have more clothes now that were given to me than actually burned in the fire," Thomas shared.

Another church group even found his class ring in the rubble and returned it to him. Now he's looking forward to the future.

"In the spring I truly believe the ashes will turn into fertilizer and the wildflowers this season and next season will probably be the best they've ever been and Gatlinburg needs it. We need that tourism so come down and see us!"

The fire started at Chimney Tops and burned strong so that trail will be closed until late spring or early summer. But most of the Great Smokies National Park was open.

Jamie Sanders, Executive Assistant at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, said, "Considering the park only had 11,000 acres burned within the park, a very relatively small part of the park land was actually affected by the fire. We have 500,000 acres so only 2% of the park actually was in the burned area."

In the three months before the fire, Sevier County saw less than three inches of rain. In the three months after, more than fifteen inches. The drought has gone from exceptional, which is the highest level, to moderate, the lowest.

State officials estimated more than 2,400 homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed. The latest figures from the state showed more than $911 million in insurance claims have been filed since the fires.

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