Gatlinburg, TN : Devastation

We hadn’t been on a trip in MONTHS… Life gets crazy and its hard to get together. However, we both looked forward to December 2nd. We made the plans to take a trip (together), and nothing was going to stand in our way.

The plan was to go to providence canyon. It had been on my bucket list for a while, and I might have been a little upset because A took a trip without me… rude I know. At least she promised to go back to get some pictures. She wanted to go in the fall/winter for better pictures.

So it was set. Until the day before we left. A asked if we should go to Gatlinburg instead to see the wildfires. Of course, I agreed without hesitation. We decided to take some donations so our trip wasn’t purely selfish. A did a pretty good job getting things together. I wish I could say I helped, but honestly I didn’t at all.

plus what you can’t see in the backseat!

With A’s car packed to the point that she turned donations away, we started out. It wasn’t the most comfortable ride for me as I gave up some of my leg space for water. I wish I could say I gave it up happily, and at first it was, but after a while the lack of leg space started to get to me.

It had been a while since A and I had taken a trip together. Thankfully, nothing had really changed and we had a blast getting there. Having a fun road trip partner is important… especially when most of the roads to where you are going are closed. According to GPS the road closures added a little over an hour to our trip. In reality it was so much longer than that. A normal 3 to 3 and half hour drive quickly turned into six hours.


At one point, the road we were on came to a complete stand still. We assumed there was fire up ahead or something else major going on, so we turned on a side road and headed toward the center for our donations in Pigeon Forge. When we finally made it to the center, we realized they were no longer taking donations. We couldn’t keep the donations and knew they were still needed. Almost every site we saw stated that the red cross was not asking for any donations, other than monetary. So after a little more research A found another location that was just around the corner and was still asking for donations.

The drop off location was also a pickup location. The line to drop off items was not nearly as long as the line to pick up items, which was heart breaking to me. Thankfully, most of the vehicles there to drop off items had a full load of things, some with trailers full, as well as a couple of moving trucks. Pallets were filled with diapers, water, clothing, and baby goods. It’s always uplifting to see how much people are willing to help out.

We don’t have any pictures of the donation center, we were just trying to unload and get out of the way, sorry guys!

After unloading three or four cart loads plus what we could carry, we headed back toward Gatlinburg. The road we needed to take was once again blocked off, closed because of the fires. I was able to pull up an alternate route and we started out.



This route seemed to be all back roads, which was fine… most of the way. At one point while we were trying to go up the mountain, a truck with a trailer and a dump truck tried to come down. The road was not wide enough for both of us and the truck wasn’t backing down (or up). So A put the car in reverse and somehow backed halfway down a mountain without killing us. There may have been a mini panic attack, but we made it. (A told me I should have gotten a picture of it but I was preoccupied with not dying).



The entire mood of the car changed when we made it into Gatlinburg. Normally a booming town, now stood silent. Every where you looked was another reminder of how destructive fire can be.


The first chance she got, A pulled over into an empty parking lot. Across the street, still glowing, the neon Chapel of Love sign. The building gone, and the ground still smoldering.

who drives 6 hours and brings two cameras and forgets all memory cards. this girl. -A


One building untouched and the next burned to the ground. Red x’s on vehicles, buildings, and driveways to show they had been checked. Iconic symbols of the town, now a pile of ashes still smoking. Houses and businesses reduced to their foundation. Cars now nothing but a charred metal frame. Electric poles burnt in half.






A parade of fire trucks, ambulances, and other emergency vehicles raced up and down the main road. I am thankful for each and every one of those men and women who left their families and have worked day and night to save as much as they can. The deserve nothing but the highest respect.


I almost felt like a burden to the community for just being there. Almost like I wasn’t supposed to be there and was going to be run off at any moment. It felt like a ghost town, and compared to normal, it was. I felt selfish for wanting to see it, wanting to photograph it. People have lost everything and here I am wanting to see it. I admit, it probably seems wrong.



But, lets all be honest with ourselves, people want to see it because words can’t describe what has actually happened. People want to know what is still there and what isn’t. Describing to someone what happened, and having pictures to show them does not compare.


We didn’t stay long. Maybe because it didn’t feel right being there. Maybe because A left her memory cards and we had to take pictures with our phones. Maybe because it had already been a long day and we had a long ride back. Whatever the reason we started the trip home.


While waiting in traffic, helicopters with pouches of water flew above us, still fighting the flames high in the mountains, national guard and fire rescue zoomed passed us in the center lanes.  About 30 minutes in, A noticed smoke rising behind us from downtown, and the firetrucks that were once racing up the mountain were now headed back to the city. At some point, a flicker of fear set in that the sun was about to go down and we were still in the midst of wild fires.

Once again we couldn’t figure out what the delay was. That was, until an hour later when we made it to the front of the line. A lady asked how many were in the car, and the name we checked in under. We never checked in, we took a back road in. This seemed to upset her and we were told to pull down to a parking lot. Great we’re in trouble now.

We pulled up to an officer who also asked our name and how many. Then she just sent us on our way. It didn’t seem like the most efficient way to make sure everyone who came in got out, but it seemed to work for them. Once again we were finally on our way home.

We want to say THANK YOU to everyone that was able to donate to the victims of the fires!


It is still very hard to put into words, and to really explain what I saw. In one hand, this is not a new sight for me, I have always photographed abandoned towns and fire stricken buildings. On the other hand, I had to step back and remember the last time I had been in Gatlinburg, and how full of life the town had been. To remember that only days ago, that is exactly what it had been. To step back and think of the videos I had seen of people trapped in these hotels, in these cabins, in these streets, just a day before. The last I heard, the count had gone up to 1700 buildings and homes that had been damaged or lost to the fires. Several have lost their lives. I don’t know a single person who does not have some ties to this nostalgic town, for us it hit home. Please continue to pray and reach out to the community, just because it is not blasted on the media, does not mean it doesn’t exist.



Side note : LG G5 camera is leaps and bounds over the iphone.

Follow us on Instagram (@fulltankofgas) and like us on facebook for updates and sneak peaks on our misadventures! Let us know in the comments where you want to see us go next!


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