Folks in east Tennessee have been watching closely this past few days as wildfires crept ever closer to Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, both major tourist destinations south of Knoxville. Last night, both cities were evacuated by local authorities as the fires quickly moved into town, driven by strong winds ahead of an approaching front.
Rains came during the late evening, but not before a great many structures were consumed by fire. Included were a number of iconic businesses that have served the locals and tourists alike for many years, plus wooded rental cabins and private homes.
The area is also home to a large number of bluegrass musicians who perform at regional attractions throughout the year. From a few quick checks this morning, they look to have all come through without damage, with one glaring exception.
Hatfield Music, owned and operated for many years by Jack Hatfield in Pigeon Forge, was completely destroyed by the fire. This includes Jack’s home, his office and inventory, his music barn, and two additional buildings on the property. All of his personal and business records burned up, as did his personal property (clothing, furnishings, etc).
The company has been a major supplier of banjo accessories and instructional materials online, and also a source for instruments from student models through pro-grade banjos. Hatfield is the author of many banjo instruction books, which were offered from his web site, along with dozens of others and a wide variety of instructional DVDs.
He also hosted banjo seminars and workshops in his barn, which he had spent much of the past few years renovating for that purpose.
We spoke with Jack this morning, and he said that when he left last night, the flames were less than 300 yards from his place. It is located at the edge of Pigeon Forge, just where the road to Gatlinburg begins. While he was preparing to evacuate, he watched the fire move from just over the horizon to where you could see it clearly in the near distance. When he returned this morning, it was all gone.
Fortunately, Jack has family nearby where he can stay indefinitely, but he will be unable to operate his banjo business for the foreseeable future. All paper and computer records are gone along with the inventory.
But he’s a trooper. Even though almost everything he owned is gone, Hatfield’s attitude is that he’ll be OK, and that others lost more than he did.
“I got my health, I got my blue hound dog, and I got my banjo. Everything else can be replaced.”
Some of his friends have suggested ways to offer financial assistance on Jack’s Facebook page, but he says that his losses are insured (other than business inventory), and that he will make a big shopping trip this week to pick up clothes and such. He asked that those willing to offer financial assistance find someone who needs help more than he does.
Rain has finally come to this part of east Tennessee, quelling the fires and sparing the area any further damage for the moment. Jack said if the storms had come just an hour earlier last night, his place would have been left untouched.
UPDATE 6:20 p.m. – A GiveForward page has been established for anyone who would like to make a donation to assist Jack with his short term needs as he tries to recover from the loss of his home. It was set up by Alan Tompkins of the Bluegrass Heritage Foundation in Texas with all monies raised going to Jack, not exactly against his wishes, but despite his insistence that he’s OK.
The American Red Cross is also accepting donations to help those suffering in east Tennessee if you would like to make a general donation.