GROVE CITY, Pa. (WKBN) – The Grace family from Grove City was visiting Gatlinburg, Tenn., for vacation last week. But they evacuated Monday due to wildfires that forced families to leave their homes and eventually killed 14 people.
The cleanup process is now underway in the Eastern Tennessee town that Dawn Grace described as “a second home.”
The Grace family — which visits the mountain city at least once a year — said it has been heartbreaking to watch wildfires rip through Gatlinburg.
“A lot of people that we’ve met — the employees and so worth down there — that have all lost their homes and what not, it’s scary,” Mark Grace said.
The family took photos on Monday from its motel balcony. They show a dense smoke that only allows you to see across the street.
“You could smell it in the air,” Grace said. “It wasn’t bad just yet. You could smell it, but you just thought the wind shifted.”
Later that day, the family was on its way from a show in Pigeon Forge a few miles from where it was staying.
Jack and Dottie Grace were one of the last cars allowed back into town.
“And God was with us,” Dottie said. “We got stopped at the first floor — they were locking the motel down. Everyone else was already out of it.”
The two were able to gather their belongings before leaving. The other three members of the family group who drove separately were not so lucky, as they’re still waiting for their belongings to return home.
“The mountain is on fire — you can’t get back in,” Mark said.
Still, the five made it home safely, which they said they’re thankful for.
But some of the things they saw have really stuck with them — in particular, a first responder they saw in a parking lot.
“He fell to his knees crying,” Dawn said.
The Grace family hopes to return to Gatlinburg in the spring.