Gatlinburg wildfire victims calling themselves #SmokiesStrong for a reason

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GATLINBURG, Tenn. — A week after the deadly wildfires, Sevier County has a story to tell: one of heartache, unimaginable loss, and pain.

“It still brings tears to my eyes because I didn’t know what to do,” Delbert Watson said.

There are at least 14 people who had their lives cut short when a firestorm rushed into Gatlinburg.

“When I opened the doors it was right here on us, and we had to run for our lives,” said Glenna Bjorklund, who lost her home in the wildfires,.

Among the dead is a couple from Memphis, named Jon and Janet Summers, along with two little girls who’s bodies were found lying next to their mother.

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“We might have it rough now, but these people out there have got it a lot tougher than I do,” Watson said.

Those who survived waited for days at a shelter before returning to the city where many of them did not know what — if anything — they had left.

“My biggest thing was my mother’s ashes,” Anthony Lent said. “It’s all I wanted. Everything else in that house is replaceable.”

“I won’t ever forget this. I never can build back. I will never be able to build back. That hurts. That hurts,” Bjorklund told WREG.

It hurt her to lose everything in a flash.

“(I) thank (Him) for my life and everything everyday. But now I’ve been praying all the time it seems like. If something happens good, I say thank you Lord,” she explained.

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“The good Lord says ‘I’m not going to put no more on you than you can handle’, but you know, it seems like he thinks I can handle a lot,” Watson cried.

Hundreds of volunteers helped to carry the load.

More than one dozen people from the Memphis area worked with the American Red Cross and first responders, and made sure victims had food to eat.

“It makes you feel good your community wants to get behind other people. I mean its 7 hours away,” John Wheeler, with Operation BBQ Relief, said.

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Even as out-of-town crews began heading out, the people who live in the Gatlinburg area said they’re going to be okay as they turn the page to the next chapter of their lives.

Local leaders said the best thing you can do to help Gatlinburg is to go back to the area, visit, and pour money into the local economy.

Many of the major attractions in surrounding towns are still open for business.

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