PIGEON FORGE (WATE) - A fire destroyed a Pigeon Forge business early Sunday morning. An employee who lived there was severely burned.
The fire at Carvings of the Smokies, a custom wood carving business off Wears Valley Road, started just before 2 a.m.
Owner Johnny Watkins says he is devastated that his thriving business now lies in a smoldering pile of ash and burnt timbers. Carefully-crafted pieces of art are now singed and unrecognizable.
"We come over here and, I mean, what do you say? I feel awful," said Watkins.
The employee who was injured says he woke up to the sound of an explosion.
"A window fell on him. He got up and went out of his bedroom and didn't see no fire. But when he opened the bathroom door, the fire leaped out at him," explained Watkins.
Watkins says his employee tried to fight the fire, but the flames were too great. The employee was airlifted to UT Medical Center with burns to his arms and back, but is expected to be released soon.
The building is gone, and with it thousands of hours of craftsmanship.
"Four hundred or 500 sets of door trim that vary anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars. That's four years of work for me and my employees. It all burned up," said Watkins.
The employee was not able to dial 911 because of his injuries. A police officer who happened to drive by the fire placed the call.
"The fire was well advanced before we ever received a call," said Pigeon Forge Fire Chief Tony Watson.
Chief Watson says the wood carvings fed the fire.
"A large amount of fire load because it's in the woodworking business. Flames were probably 50 or 60 feet in the air. Large amount of heat in a real short area. That basement just created an oven," said Watson.
Although the main building was destroyed, two side buildings were untouched by the fire, so a small number of wood carvings were not damaged.
Watkins says as hard as it is to lose his business to this blaze, he knows things could have been worse. He plans to pick up the pieces and begin carving soon.
"Thank God we didn't lose any lives. That's the main thing. Everything else can be replaced day by day, little by little," he said.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation by the Pigeon Forge Fire Department.