Sevier Co. firemen remember waging war against raging wildfires

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SEVIER COUNTY, Tenn. (WVLT) -- November, 28, 2016, was a night firefighters said they went to war.

"You would be driving down a street that you just went up five minutes ago, and there was nothing there, no fire there, to go back and have 20 houses on fire," Capt. David Puckett of the Gatlinburg Fire Department said. "You would be going down the road and stop abruptly because a dumpster would be rolling down the road in front of you. There was one point I saw a recliner bouncing down the road, just to give you an idea of the force of these winds."

Captain Puckett was on the front lines with him men and women, armed with water hoses and their faith.

"My walk with faith is what got me through it that night," he said. Puckett said his biggest prayer that night was "that we could save as many as possible."

Captain Puckett said his army was in combat, staring their enemy in the face that night.

"You know, they were driving by their homes to respond to others that were in need, and they knew their homes would not be there when they came back," he said. "It's hard for me to talk about it because there was a lot of effort that went into it."

Even one year later, Puckett said he can recall the images and smells that still burn in his mind.

"You can't un-see something once you've seen it," he said. "You can't un-live it once you've went through it. There will be times when you see something, hear something or smell something, and it will immediately take you back to that call. It was surreal, it was hard to believe...what I experienced in Gatlinburg up there right before I came back here."

Pigeon Forge Fire Chief Tony Watson and his men were in the same war, only separated by smoke and rubble.

"Being in the Park Vista area, there were flames, that wind was blowing like nothing you've ever seen before. I mean, think about those embers traveling about 80-90 miles an hour," Watson said.

Despite the dangers, Chief Watson said waving the white flag was not an option last year.

"I had a high degree of concern for my folks and my community, but I knew I had a job to do, and I had to maintain that command posture, to make sure I could lead my community through this devastating time," he said.

The only people both teams of responders couldn't lead that night were their own families.

"When I got home, they were waiting on me at the door, and they came up and they hugged me," Puckett said. "It was just a sense of peace to be home and to be with them because at that point I didn't know what I was going to be coming home to."

Some families did lose the battle that night, but the firemen continue to maintain their lives and legacies rose from the ashes.

"We just pause and think about them, think about those victims and pray for them," Watson said.

"We suffer...we mourn emotionally over the loss of people's properties and lives," Puckett said.