It was one of the most heartbreaking moments that ever happened in Tennessee. A wildfire ripped through parts of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge leaving dozens of victims injured and killing at least 14 on Nov. 28.
Anybody who’s seen the Smoky Mountains before the fire would know how much beauty has now been lost, but for 75-year-old Jimmy Vance, that allure pales in comparison to the vision that was his wife, May.
Years ago, Jimmy and May settled into a cozy home on Village Loop Road, where the recent blaze took place. According to Jimmy, the couple didn’t receive any warning about the fire, but they did notice flames hovering above the trees in their backyard. Together, they escaped in one piece. But, the flames only spared Jimmy’s life and took his bride of 53 years.
“If I’d only had a warning from the authorities to get the hell out we would’ve gone,” Jimmy tells WTVF, remembering that unsettling event with tears in his eyes. “’We have to get the hell out of here,’ that’s what I was thinking.”
Rushing to get to safety, Jimmy says he and his love made their way to their car and headed out of the inferno. Shortly after, he noticed May slumped over in the passenger seat. Her heart had stopped beating from all of the smoke.
“I tried to talk to her and she didn’t say nothing,” Jimmy recalls.
Jimmy’s wife did make it to a hospital, where doctors worked with a sliver of hope that they might bring her back, but it was too late. On his birthday, Jimmy said goodbye to the person who meant everything to him.
“She was 75,” he said of his high school sweetheart, “I was sitting by her side, holding her hand.”
As Gatlinburg begins to let residents back into the city to see if their homes are still standing Jimmy adds, “All the memories of a lifetime are in that house and they’re gone.”
Our hearts go out to Jimmy at this time.