Laurel native living near Gatlinburg describes "heartbreaking" fire damage

Laurel native living near Gatlinburg describes "heartbreaking" fire damage

LAUREL, MS (WDAM) - A Laurel native now living near the Smoky Mountains said watching fires destroy her husband's job and an area she grew up loving is heartbreaking.

Beth Jones said she and her husband, Ray, moved just outside of Gatlinburg, TN, about seven years ago.

"I know many, many people that love the Smoky Mountains as we do," Jones said. "That's why we're here. As a child, I was brought up her by my parents, and we just fell in love like so many of my friends that still live down there. They love the Smoky Mountains."

While she experienced hurricanes and tornadoes living in Mississippi, Jones said these fires are like nothing she has ever seen.

"I've been through tornadoes," she said. "I worked the Glade tornadoes years and years ago for the Red Cross. I did Katrina. I did George when he came through, and that is so different from fire. Fire is just unbelievable. It's just horrendous to see that coming at you."

Jones said she was on the phone with a friend when that friend saw the fire coming toward her cabin.

"While she was talking to me, she said, 'Oh my gosh Beth! I see fire!'" Jones said. "She said, 'I've got to go!' She grabs her three dogs, didn't take shoes, didn't take medication, nothing. Within 20 minutes from the time that she left, her house had burned."

Jones' husband worked at the Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort & Spa, which lost 74 of its 100 buildings in the fire.

"He works at Westgate properties, and it did burn," she said. "Only just a couple of buildings were left. The night shift people at Westgate were the ones that were knocking on doors trying to get people out as the fire was coming to them. He wasn't really there to do that, but he really gives them a lost of praise for what they did. Because they could have just left and just left everybody there."

Jones said aside from the financial strain her husband's sudden job loss puts on her family, she said it is devastating to watch a place she loves burn.

"There was no warning," Jones said. "Within 15 minutes it was gone. It's very heartbreaking, and I'm tearing up right now as we speak. It's very heartbreaking, and I know a lot of people down there are heartbroken. It's tough on your heart, tough on your head, your brain. You know, just your mind. You can see people who are just in your mind dying from smoke and fire, and it's devastating. It really is. It's going to come back. It's going to come back. It's going to take a while, but it was so dry here, this was just inevitable."

With just weeks until Christmas, Jones said this holiday will be hard both financially and mentally.

"It was going to be tough anyway, but it's really going to be difficult now," she said. "The grandchildren just don't understand that, but God's going to provide. It's going to be fine."