Huntsville's fire department is lending a helping hand in Sevier County as firefighters and other first responders fight a massive blaze that burned hundreds of structures in Gatlinburg and the surrounding area Monday night.
Four of those firefighters left Scott County around 11 p.m. on Nov. 28 as news reports began detailing the seriousness of the situation. A wildfire initially reported on Nov. 23 in the Chimney Tops and Bullhead Ridge areas of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park began to rapidly spread in Monday's extremely windy conditions. The deteriorating situation caused evacuations of the entire town of Gatlinburg.
Battalion Chief Royce Stanley, Capt. Daniel Bell, Lt. Nathan Daggs, and Firefighter Ryan Hamby, packed their HFD turnout gear and took their personal vehicles to report to Pigeon Forge Fire Station No. 1.
"We've pretty much been around the Dollywood area since 1 a.m. this morning," Bell told the News late Tuesday morning as the four took a quick break back at the PFFD.
Bell said the area looked like a war zone as they fought several structure fires in Pigeon Forge alongside fire departments from Maynardville, Crossville and Chattanooga. He called their decision to go help a spur of the moment choice.
"I know we protect the town of Huntsville and Scott County itself, but we also have to protect our state," he explained.
Bell, a 2002 graduate of Scott High, has been a firefighter for 10 years. He said he'd never seen anything like the blazes they battled at four cabins overnight. All were total losses.
At home, Nathan Dagg's wife, Meghan, barely slept Monday night as she waited on sporadic text messages with updates from the firefighters.
"He's been texting me at least every couple hours," she said. "I was a nervous wreck all night. I've hardly slept at all."
The Daggs family -- which includes two children -- moved to Tennessee from Michigan in 2007. Nathan Daggs has been a member of the Huntsville Fire Department for almost five years.
He made several posts to social media overnight detailing their assignments in Pigeon Forge. Around noon on Tuesday, he posted that the four Huntsville firefighters were safe and had been sent to the Comfort Inn for mandatory rest.
"They want us back this evening. I plan on being home tonight but will stay if need be. I probably need to call work to keep them updated," he wrote.
Because HFD is a volunteer force, the firefighters work regular jobs in addition to their work as first responders. Daggs is a driver for Pepsico. Bell works for Norfolk Southern. Both could have to use their vacation days if they miss work to fight the fire.
Engineer Robert Bell answered the phone at the HFD when the News called Tuesday morning. He said there are still four firefighters available should they be needed for a fire here at home. Robert Bell is Daniel Bell's father. He said he was "very proud" of his son for stepping up. Robert Bell believes God had his hand on the area as there had been no reported fatalities as of midday Tuesday.
"I've been here watching TV all morning, watching channel 10 -- flipping between it and six -- and watching the stories. The best thing that I've heard is that there've been no fatalities, as of right now, that's been reported. God's working in this," Bell said. He offered to accompany the other four, but Daniel Bell asked him to stay home.
While there have been no reported fatalities, a press release from the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency reported that three people with "severe burns" were taken to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. A fourth person with burns to the face was hospitalized at the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville. It was unclear if the injured parties were first responders or citizens.
The Scott County Office Building became a drop site for donations on Tuesday morning with the plan to take water, food, clothing, pet supplies and medical supplies to Sevier County as soon as a van was filled. The Scott County Emergency Management Agency may continue accepting donations for the next several days -- find them on Facebook or call 663-2337 for more information about what items will be needed and when the drop off site will be open.