GATLINBURG, Tenn.– All Amy and Doug Williams could do was to hope and pray their family’s mountain retreat had weathered Tennessee’s historic wildfires.
The Williams’ two-story home, tucked along a hillside near Gatlinburg’s picturesque main strip, has been in the family for three generations. The mountain town was one of the regions hardest hit by the raging wildfires that swept through portions of eastern Tennessee in late November.
At least 14 deaths have been tied to the wildfire outbreak and more than 2,400 structures either damaged or destroyed, authorities said.
During the active days of the fire, Amy Williams recalls seeing images on social media showing her beloved home on Holly Ridge Road surrounded by a virtual inferno.
“All of the images that we saw, it really looked bad,” says Williams’ husband, recalling the moment he saw the pictures coming from Gatlinburg.
“It looked like there was no way for this house to survive.”
Watching and waiting
The Williams waited in their hometown of Bristol, Tennessee — about 115 miles northeast of the devastation — for any information about their Gatlinburg home, and shared their story with a local television station.
That’s when they received a call from a stranger, putting their fears to rest.
Mosheim Volunteer Fire Capt. Jerry Redmond says he recognized the two-story house shown in the news story as the same structure he and his fellow volunteers helped save just days before.
“I was watching the news coverage, and they flashed a picture of the exact house,” recalls Redmond. “The homeowner was stating she didn’t know if it was still standing.”
Redmond jumped on the phone to call his local television station and was eventually able to connect with the Williams in northern Tennessee. He sent them photos of the scene, showing the Williams’ home still standing.
Redmond, who works primarily for Walmart and has spent 16 years giving back to his community as a volunteer firefighter, says first responders rarely have the chance to deliver positive news. This was now one of those opportunities.
“She would’ve gone a couple of more days of excruciating thoughts. … And we were able to answer that question for her,” Redmond tells CNN.
The volunteers from Mosheim
Redmond was part of a team of 15 firefighters who traveled from Greene County.
The teams were assigned to protect buildings in and around downtown Gatlinburg, according to Redmond, who says this is the first time he’s faced such a challenge.
“The best way to describe it is, if you’ve ever been in a blizzard, this was a blizzard. Instead of the white snow, it was hot burning embers, and they were just everywhere.”
The Williams credit Redmond’s crew with saving their home, while also recognizing the massive, collective effort by fire crews from near and far who helped save who and what they could.
“It’s just unbelievable that there are people in this world that will do that for free,” says Doug Williams. “They are the heroes.”