SEVIER COUNTY, Tenn. (WATE) — A Sevier County volunteer firefighter was convinced he wouldn’t make it out of the Wears Valley wildfire alive.

Jim Carr shared his incredible story of survival with 6 On Your Side’s Elizabeth Kuebel.

Carr says there were two things that saved his life. One was a special device called a thermal imaging camera. The second, he said, was the grace of God.

“I can’t even describe the blinding smoke, the burning eyes, and not being able to breathe. None of us had structural turnout gear on to protect us from heat, we’re wearing plain clothes,” Carr said.

He and five other firefighters from different agencies were responding to the wildfire. Carr was sent to supply water. The flames they found grew quickly and intensely.

“I got inside the truck and gave a mayday to command to let them know we were trapped and in trouble,” said Carr.

He said he thought he would die fighting the fire.

“I laid over on the floorboard of the seat, made my final video to my wife and kids and family. And was getting ready to leave the truck to see how far I could make it before I died. I knew I was dead, I just didn’t know where I was going to die,” he said.

But it was a reminder from his assistant chief about a special firefighting tool that led Carr to safety.
He found and used his thermal imaging camera to escape.

“I saw a dark spot which looked like a road. Dark spot on a thermal imaging camera usually means colder areas. The closer I could get I realized it was a bulldozer road,” he said.

Now he’s wondering when the nightmare he lived through will start to feel real.

“One day I’ll come out of shock. Even last night I looked at my wife and I said this really just happened. Because it all seems like just a blur and a dream,” said Carr.

Remarkably, Carr is physically ok. He’s got some ember burns on his arms and had to get a new haircut because some of his hair was singed off.

Overwhelmingly, though, he is feeling blessed.

Carr also said none of the other firefighters left him on the mountain – that they got separated in the firefighting. They were able to make it out safely, too.