By 2 p.m. on Monday, Peter Thompson knew that wildfires were threatening his neighborhood, so he told his wife Yolanda to find a hotel and go there with their two daughters Ana, 16 and Georgia, 11.
The firefighter and paramedic was working with the Sevier County Ambulance Service that day and could see all the smoke in the air.
“We knew Gatlinburg was on fire, but we didn’t know the extent of it,” he said.
He found out when he got his first call in the city, where traffic was bumper to bumper on the main road as people tried to escape the flames all around them.
“It literally looked like hell on Earth,” he said. That was when he started to worry.
At 10 p.m., Thompson responded to a 911 call that took him by his house, which was still standing.
Three hours later, he was rushing to another emergency call and again passed his home.
“My heart sunk,” said the trained firefighter, who had to watch as flames engulfed the house.
“There was nothing I could do because I was responding to a 911 call,” he said.
Thompson knows firefighters like himself have done everything they could to fight the flames and save the structures these past few days. But the wind has been so strong, it’s made the fire jump around.
“We gave it our all, it just overwhelmed,” he said.
On Thursday, Thompson and his wife finally saw what was left of their home and were heartbroken when they realized that they had lost everything. The structure had collapsed on itself.
“We salvaged about three of our daughter’s Precious Moments figurines,” he said. “Everything else was ashes.”
The Thompsons vow not to let the loss nor the fires destroy their spirit, because they know many people, including Peter’s parents, also lost their homes and are temporarily displaced.
“We’re going to rebuild. It’s not going to run us off,” Thompson said.
Thompson attended Tucker High School in Henrico’s West End in the 1990s.