“If your family is packed, leave now” – Marshall Co. family forced to evacuate Gatlinburg during vacation

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Gatlinburg wildfires / courtesy of Cassie Burgess

ALBERTVILLE, Ala. — A Marshall County family is glad to be safely back home after what was supposed to be a week-long visit with family in Gatlinburg was cut short. In their words, they’ve never seen anything like what they experienced.

Cody and Cassie Burgess woke up Tuesday after a long night of driving, just glad to be safely home in Albertville. The family of three drove away from Gatlinburg overnight, praying they would make it back home to Alabama. What was supposed to be a week-long trip with family turned into something they’ve never seen.  “Nothing even close,” Cody Burgess says.

On Monday they still had a few days left of vacation. “We could see the fire, it was getting closer,” Burgess said, “You could see it on the third floor balcony and on the porch. I mean, it was just red.”

Burgess says officials told them to leave the cabin and go to a nearby location where hundreds of others were meeting. At that point, they started looking for a way to get safely back home to Alabama.  “We found one of the Red Cross workers and asked him what he thought. He said ‘son, if your family is packed  leave now.’ ”

“People were scared to death. You’ve got people who live there, the locals. They’ve never seen anything like it. You’ve got people who left their belongings in their cabins and just evacuated,” Burgess says, “The fires are still burning. I don’t know if the cabin we were in is still standing.”

The  devastating wildfires in and around Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge forced agencies to call for the evacuation. Emergency management officials  believe at least 14,000 residents and visitors evacuated from Gatlinburg alone.

“It’s just sad. There’s a lot of families there who live there, who work there. It’s one of my favorite tourist destinations,” Burgess adds.

Burgess says they’re glad to be safely home, but their thoughts and prayers are still with the place and people they loved to visit. “There are a lot of people who lost their homes,” Burgess says, “I’ll pray for them.”