SEVIER COUNTY, Tenn. (WATE) — Five years ago, thousands of people were left waiting to return to their homes after the Gatlinburg wildfires – not knowing if they would even have a home to go back to.
In the days that followed, we would lean more than 2,400 buildings were destroyed and 14 people lost their lives. But in the midst of the devastation and tragedy, came stories of survival and hope.
Brett Gaff, his wife and three children fortunately left their Gatlinburg home just before it went up in flames. They have since rebuilt and overcome, and they are now hoping to inspire another family going through a tough time of their own.
Five years ago, Gaff spotted fire behind his neighbor’s house.
“We told the kids, grab an outfit, we’ve got to go. They each grabbed one outfit apiece, threw it in a bag, we got in the car, and we started driving down the hill towards the main road,” he said. They ended up at Rocky Top Sports World, where countless others also sought shelter.
The Gaffs would later find the home they left behind – unrecognizable. A neighbor said they saw it burn only one hour after he and his family escaped.
“It was about three inches of ashes and that was it. And just the foundation and the back wall,” said Gaff.
Now, their rebuilt home sits on the same plot and serves as a symbol of hope.
“We’re originally from northern Indiana, we had moved down here for adventures. We liked the outdoor thing. Now this was not the type of adventure that we were hoping for, but it was an adventure,” Gaff said. “We were supported by the community, and we wanted to stay here and provide hope to others.”
That mission continues. The Gaffs are giving away a stay in their nearby rental cabin to encourage and inspire others with comeback stories of their own.
“As a family, we’re going to pick somebody to essentially go, enjoy the cabin, use that as a time to spend time together with their family. Hopefully it will be used as a blessing to them,” said Gaff. “We’ve been blessed through this process by God and by others, and it’s positioned us that we can use this is as a blessing for somebody else.”
Gaff started a Facebook group called ‘Comeback Warriors.’ That’s where he is asking people to share their comeback stories through December 17th. He’s hoping to announce a winner on Christmas Eve.