Franklin Fire Department engineer Jeff Boggs walked through a scene of scorched earth this week.
Going back to Gatlinburg after previously spending fall break there with his family, Boggs said the wildfire that ravaged 17,000 acres of Sevier County became a sight he had never witnessed.
“You have those memories of being in Gatlinburg, and this won’t replace them,” Boggs said. “But it’s like, I remember walking down this street that’s now completely burnt up.”
Boggs and nearly 50 others from Williamson County have spent the better part of this week fighting spot fires and becoming a part of search and rescue efforts after Monday night’s blaze tore through Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.
While Boggs said the main strip of town was OK, it was unlike anything he had ever seen before, remembering the massive amounts of traffic and sprawls of people that normally filter through during the holiday season.
“When we first saw how dark it was – how physically dark and the smoke everywhere – we were just coming out of Pigeon Forge,” he said. “We could smell the smoke. It was intense and intimidating.”
For the last few days, Boggs, along with the others from Franklin, spent the majority of their time on search and rescue efforts. They also put out small spot fires when they appeared.
By the time the crews from Williamson County arrived, the large fire had already been put out.
Boggs said beyond that point of the main center of town is where it started to evolve into landscape more apocalyptic.
“That’s honestly the best way I know to describe it,” he said. “I’ve never seen fire on this scale, and I probably won’t see it again.
“The floods in Franklin were a big deal for me. I grew up in the area and knew all the places, but as far as disasters go, all I’ve seen are that and tornadoes. This is unbelievable. There’s just so much gone.
“You’re driving over down power lines that are dead. You’re weaving around trees that are down. We’ve had to cut our way up to some areas to do search and rescue operations. It’s very bleak up in those areas. Cars are on the side of the road just burnt.”
Boggs said he was able to join in the effort through a volunteer-told program, meaning he put his name on the list but had to have certain qualifications and skills to head to East Tennessee to assist.
He said he and others became happy to help and use their training for those who needed it the most.
“The situation is awful and even in doing what we do, we are going to see awful stuff,” he said. “But we are here to make it better. We are excited to offer what we have. There’s military, all kinds of state highway patrol and state this and that. There are people from South Carolina and as far away as Arizona. Williamson County is playing a role, and the Williamson County guys are a really good group.”
Boggs said he and the task force from Franklin will tentatively return Saturday morning.