It has been little over a week since fires began spreading through the Gatlinburg, Tenn., and Smoky Mountain area, causing widespread destruction to the historic tourist town and the lush mountain forests surrounding it.
As of Saturday morning, the Associated Press confirmed that 13 people have died and that nearly 1,000 homes and buildings were damaged or destroyed in the fire’s path.
But in the wake of this devastating fire has also come a surge of support from communities all over the nation, each donating time and supplies to help residents get back on their feet.
One group of volunteers from the Hall County Sheriff’s Office took two cars and a refrigerated truck loaded with donations to Gatlinburg on Friday afternoon, calling the mission “Mission Merry Christmas, Gatlinburg.”
“It was a very rewarding, humbling experience,” Hall County Sheriff Gerald Couch said. “You could see in people’s faces how much they needed help.”
Couch was one of several Hall representatives to made the journey. He describes the feeling at the distribution center in Pigeon Forge to be “energetic, hopeful and well-organized.”
“When we got there, we could see a very long string of cars and people that needed supplies, and who were there to donate. But we could see that each one of the volunteers was hopeful and energetic,” Couch said.
He said that the donation warehouse had been divided into sections containing a wide variety of goods. Affected families could come and sort through supplies to take what fit their family best
Couch said though the group didn’t see any signs of the destruction the area suffered, a thick burning odor hung over the entire area.
Couch also thanked the countless individuals and more than 20 businesses in Hall County responsible for the truckload of donations.
“I want to thank the Hall County community for the outpouring of love and support that they have shown,” Couch said. “I remember when we had the tornado come through a few years back and the support we received. So it’s great that people have been able to give back.”