Gatlinburg residents start to rebuild as tourists return to burnt-out city

Tourists slowly return to burnt-out Gatlinburg
Posted at 12:22 PM, Dec 12, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-13 09:11:40-05

GATLINBURG, Tenn. -- The gateway to the Smoky Mountains is starting to heal from a devastating wildfire that tore through one of the Tri-State's favorite vacation destinations in late November. 

Thousands of people are starting over after the fire destroyed hundreds of structures and killed 14 people, but live music and cars streaming through one-by-one are signs that Gatlinburg is back in business. The one message from the town's tourism industry is "don't stay away."

One family from Cincinnati took that advice the weekend of Dec. 9 through 11.

"I mean like they said to everybody, 'Come down. This is our livelihood. If you stayed away, we’ll lose our jobs,'" Vicki Borros said. "So I am more than happy to come down, donate and spend my money.”

Borros also said looking at the fire damage so close to downtown is humbling.

“It’s just a weird thing to see, especially since everything. Some is hit. Some is not. It’s like, how does nature do that?” Borros said.

Those who work in Gatliburg said they need tourists to come back. A couple visiting from Nashville said they came to support the local economy.

"We've been coming up here for a long time," Dickie Sears said. "It's one of our favorite places to come. We just wanted to see what happened."

The bigger questions are why and how two juveniles, who are now in custody, started the fire in the first place. It's left a deep scar that will take time to heal, but visitors will do wonders. The shops reopened Dec. 9 while machines worked all weekend manufacturing snow for the Ober Gatlinburg ski area, which reopened on Monday. Skiing is set to start Friday.

Gatlinburg will also get another boost Dec. 17 when the Zac Brown Band holds a free benefit concert on the Parkway. Anyone who can't make it down will be able to watch it "throughout the day" on the Ole Smoky Facebook page.

One tourist destination hasn't reopened: The Chimney Tops area, where officials believe the fire started on Nov. 23, is still closed. 

As of Monday, the fire is almost contained at 94 percent. The map below, provided by the city of Gatlinburg, shows how the blaze burned more than 17,000 acres after igniting on Nov. 23 near the Chimney Tops area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Five days later, winds picked up pushing the fire 10 miles north toward Gatlinburg.