When Scott Ingram awoke Sunday morning, he looked out at the mountains from his home in the Chalet Village community in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
“I could see smoke. I was concerned, but the smoke was going straight up, so it wasn’t affecting anything here. So we went about our business. Monday morning, smoke was everywhere and ashes were starting to land on our cars,” he said. He and his wife, Annette, went to their business, an ice cream and coffee shop in downtown Gatlinburg, and daughter Jadyn went to her school, which is near their home and adjacent to the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts.
“Around 10 or so, we got a call that they were taking the children to another area,” he said. Annette Ingram decided instead to pick Jadyn up.
“We really didn’t know what to do, whether we should leave or be seriously concerned in any way. We hadn’t heard anything,” Scott Ingram said. “It was looking like it would skim by us, but then the winds started picking up around 5 or 6 (p.m.). Limbs were falling out of trees. So we said, ‘We need to just go.’ I wanted my family safe. We left about 6:30.”
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They each took a vehicle, just in case. The Ingrams’ neighborhood is about 2 miles up the mountain from downtown Gatlinburg.
“They had already closed the way we would usually go,” he said. They took an alternate route.
“We had to go around, under and over trees in the road. Where a tree had fallen down over the road and was leaning over trees on the other side, we would have to drive under,” he said. “We honestly didn’t know if we would make it out, but we did.”
When they reached the “5-mile stretch between Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg” where a river runs in the middle of a four-lane highway, traffic seemed to be flowing well.
“We got almost to Pigeon Forge, then the traffic stopped and we were redirected to a two-lane road. Which was fine, we were familiar with it,” he said. As they went farther down the road, he became concerned. “I said, ‘I don’t like this.’ About a half-mile in, I could see fire.”
Traffic ahead began carefully turning around on the two-lane road. Eventually the Ingrams got back to the main road, but “the traffic started piling up there. It was at a dead stop for 15, 20 minutes. We could feel the heat of the fire, and we couldn’t go forward and we couldn’t go back. That was scary.”
We honestly didn’t know if we would make it out, but we did.
Eventually traffic started moving, and the Ingrams got to Sevierville, where they have been living in a hotel until they can go home.
“It might be some time next week before they’ll let us in,” Scott Ingram said.
Early Tuesday evening, the Ingrams heard from others that their home was spared. According to one person, a swath of vegetation that had been cleared for an aerial tram behind their house turned out to be an unexpected blessing.
“It served as a type of fire break,” Ingram said. “That’s what somebody told us. Whatever did it, we’ll take it! It’s really unbelievable what has happened up here. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
The family’s business is OK, and Jadyn’s school, which one report had said was destroyed, also survived, although it likely has smoke damage, Ingram said.
The Ingrams have lived in Gatlinburg for about five years, but they are Coastians.
“We moved to the Coast when I was 9 years old, and Annette’s family is from Ocean Springs,” he said. They also are missionaries in Mexico.
Meanwhile, Ingram, who is counting his and his family’s blessings, is already putting his mind to missions, this time much closer to home.
“I may see if I can do whatever I can to help,” he said. “Right now, a lot of people are still looking for their loved ones.