We just got home from Cozy Creek. It was our first trip to Sevier County since the terrible wildfires that raged through the area just before Christmas and their busy holiday season, and it is apparent that tourism hasn't fully bounced back. I knew that the Chalet Village fires came close to La and Stew's two A-Frames on Ski Mountain Road, but I didn't realize how close they came to Cozy Creek on Flat Bracnh Road, where there was fire damage on the mountain just a couple of hundred yards down the road from it.
We drove into Gatlinburg, one of the areas hardest hit by the fires, and there is extensive damage on either side of the parkway, although the parkway itself, the main artery through town, was not damaged. There were many gutted structures on either side of the parkway just a few blocks off of it. We drove up River Road to Ski Mountain Road, and both had many burned out structures, including some of the old hotel properties near the bottom of Ski Mountain Road. My friend Johnny's family has a timeshare in a condo complex on Ski Mountain Road that I've been to, and it was hit hard, though if memory serves me correctly the building the Johnny's family's unit was in was not burned. The building housing their wonderful indoor pool was totaled, though.
The most horrific sights, however, were on Wiley Oakley Road, where several people lost their lives that night. If you are not familiar with this road, it is a challenge in the daytime. I can only imagine what it was like trying to drive out of there with the world on fire around you, especially if you didn't grow up driving on curvy mountain roads. (If you haven't seen the video of that, it is here.) We drove from the Chalet Village end to the Pigeon Forge end at the visitor center, and the best word I've heard to describe it is "hellscape." Wiley Oakley is a long road, and I would guess something like 90% or more of the homes on it were destroyed. The ones that are left are surrounded by the ruins of their former neighbors.
If you want to help our friends and neighbors up in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and the rest of beautiful Sevier County, the locals up there are open for business and want people up in the mountains enjoying the hospitality. While there is fire damage to be seen, the mountain scenery is still beautiful and all of the shops, restaurants and other businesses are ready to serve. If you are able to give time or a monetary donation go to the Mountain Tough website and help them out that way, too.