KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Debbie Brooks lived in Chalet Village, one of the hardest hit areas in the Gatlinburg wildfires. She’s now being treated for severe burns at UT Medical Center.
“I don’t think anybody down below knew how bad it was up above,” she says. “The entire front yard was on fire. The entire side of the house was on fire.”
Brooks describes looking out the window of her Chalet Village home, seeing fire consume her neighborhood and eventually her home.
“Flames started shooting out from all around and then the storage room ceiling collapsed and the main beam to the house came through it,” she says.
Brooks grabbed her dog and two cats and sprinted to the car.
“Put it in gear and reverse and just slammed through the garage doors,” she says.
In a panic, Brooks flipped the car and had to call 911, but they said no one could get to her. That made her angry.
“That’s nice for you to say, but I’m going to die if nobody gets here,” Brooks says she told operators.
Waiting for help, she was pelted by golf ball sized embers flying in the air.
“It was like not being next to a campfire. It was like being involved in a meteor shower.”
Shielding her pets, she ended up with third degree burns to her arms. She says it was her job to protect them, which she did until police finally found her five hours later. It’s an experience that’s difficult to talk about and filled with heartbreak – because she had to leave behind her sweet dog Jelli who was too far away.
“It was my responsibility to take care of her. and I didn’t live up to my responsibility,” says Brooks.
She later learned Jelli didn’t make it out. Brooks lost a pet and a home, but a generous and giving community is helping her through it.
“I think we are all going to rebuild and we are going to be closer than ever,” she says.