Wildfires raged across Gatlinburg, Tenn., in the last week of November, the result of a small fire in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and a severe drought. Local authorities have confirmed tens of thousands of acres have been burned, and hundreds of buildings have been lost. Thousands of residents have been displaced, some injured, and ten have died.
The first of the seven victims has been identified as 70-year-old mother and grandmother Alice Hagler.
A frantic Hagler called her sons Lyle and James Wood to tell them that the flames were getting closer and closer to her house. She called them again two hours later to say that the house was on fire. By the time the brothers reached the home, they could tell that it was already too late.
With tears in their eyes, Lyle and his wife Rachel joined CNN from Pigeon Forge, Tenn., to speak about their mother.
“We held out a lot of hope,” they said, initially hoping that Hagler had gotten to a shelter.
After recounting the devastating events, the couple recalled the life of their mother.
“She’s a great lady,” Lyle said, remembering how much she loved her grandchildren and everyone around her:
Those are our kids, Sam and Charlie. And those were her pride and joy. She was one of those ladies that just loved people. She never met a stranger, she never found anyone she couldn’t talk to that she wasn’t willing to talk to. She had a lot of love in her heart. She loved those kids. She loved my brother very much.
Lyle said that his mom and his brother lived in the house together. James’ things were also lost in the fire.
The couple asked for prayer not only for James, but also for the families who had experienced the horror of the wildfires. They also thanked the community, the firefighters, the Red Cross and dispatch. He also praised the faith community in the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge area.
Wood was speaking with his mother on the phone just before the line was disrupted.
He had attempted to find his mother:
Wood is sadly not the only one searching for his family members.
Sevier county resident Michael Reed is hoping to hear from his wife, Constance, and two daughters, Lily, 9, and Chloe, 12. He last spoke to them over the phone on Monday. He told her to call 911 after she said that she could see flames near their home.
Reed and his son attempted to drive to Gatlinburg to search for them, but the were stuck in traffic. When the pair finally got back to their home, they saw that it was completely consumed by the fire. Reed is hopeful, as there was evidence that they escaped.
“We are just hoping for a miracle,” he said.