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Martinsville, Virginia 24115
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Local residents got up-close look at wildfires
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Cabins at Black Bear Ridge resort near Pigeon Forge, Tenn., are shown ablaze last weekend after a wildfire engulfed 160 acres and damaged 60 cabins. (Contributed photo)

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

By HOLLY KOZELSKY - Bulletin Staff Writer

Local residents Chris Stockton and his father Cornell Stockton were among 40 local people whose vacation last weekend near Pigeon Forge, Tenn., was interrupted by a wildfire.

The blaze soon turned into a wildfire that burned nearly 60 rental cabins, cutting their vacation short.

Everyone on the trip was from Martinsville, Henry County or Rocky Mount, Christopher Staples of Rocky Mount said.

He and Billie Jo Staples were part of the group who vacationed at Black Bear Ridge Resort in Sieverville, near Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. They planned to spend Friday through Monday there.

It was just an informally arranged group of people who decided to carpool and share the costs, Staples said. The house’s rent was $1,000 per day, he added.

Staples described the place as “all those real expensive cabins with big screen TVs and hot tubs.”

On Sunday, he was “just relaxing upstairs” when he heard the alarm shouted by Chris Stockton and his father. The Stocktons were “relaxing outside,” Staples said, when they saw fire.

Stockton said he, his father and a few others were on the front porch at about 4:25 p.m. when they saw smoke. Stockton runs The Wax in Collinsville.

“All the girls had already gone to Gatlinburg to go shopping,” Stockton said. “We were waiting on everybody to get back to make dinner.”

At first, the Stocktons thought the smoke was someone else’s cookout. It just kept getting thicker, though, so they went to the house where the fire was to check it out.

The house was empty except for “maintenance people there,” he said. “They weren’t paying any attention. We had to let them know (about the fire),” and they called 911.

Then the Stocktons rushed back to their house to tell their housemates. However, they weren’t too worried in the beginning.

“At first it was like watching real TV,” Stockton said. “Then all of a sudden, you’re like, wait a minute, that one, too,” is burning. “Then that one, too.”

The fire would jump to a house, then “within 30 to 45 minutes” would spread to another, he said.

Staples, who was in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, said that experience taught him to take natural disasters seriously.

“We went from room to room trying to wake people up,” Staples said. Then he packed his belongings quickly, he said. He was the first of their group who was ready to leave.

By the time the women returned from shopping, roads were blocked and they could not get back to the cabin.

The men did all the packing, assisted by strangers, Stockton said. They were lucky to get all of their things, he said. “Some people watched their stuff burn.”

“All the cabins around us were burning up, one by one,” Staples said. “By the time we left, all the cabins were about to go up.”

Resort management offered guests other lodging, but the Staples decided to head home a day early. The Stocktons accepted the offer of new lodging in Dollywood. They returned to Martinsville on Monday evening.

According to Associated Press reports, the fire burned nearly 60 rental houses and covered 160 acres. Up to 200 people were evacuated, and there were two minor injuries, according to the report.

The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency declared the fire to be a state emergency Monday morning. Up to 30 fire departments responded. National Guard helicopters scooped up water from Douglas Lake and dropped it on the fire Monday, according to the AP report.


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