They were trapped by a hellish blaze that had overtaken their truck.
Their escape was blocked. They were forced to seek refuge in one of the homes they’d been sent to try to save. In just moments, members of the Northview-Kodak Volunteer Fire Department found themselves with few options.
The crew had been dispatched to battle a brush fire on behalf of the Sevier County wildland task force.
They were sent to Hatcher Mountain for structural protection and fire suppression.
The Hatcher Mountain/Indigo Lane fire of 2022
It was March 30, 2022 and in Wears Valley, there was a fire on the mountain.
When the crew arrived at the assigned location, the situation appeared under control. They set about cutting fire breaks to protect the buildings.
However, high winds pushed the quick-moving fire up the mountain, changing the conditions from fairly normal to dire within minutes.
Squad members sent out a mayday call as the fire had blocked their escape and left them with no way out. Meanwhile, they stood their ground, battling the fire with their 2000 model International Engine that carried 1,000 gallons of water.
In mountainous rural areas, water pumpers are necessary because there are no hydrants for firefighters to hook up to.
They fought a losing battle as long as they could.
But when the fire overtook their trucks, they retreated into one of the homes they had been sent to protect. They girded themselves with wet towels, trying to prepare for the inevitable escape attempt through the hellish scene that awaited them.
When they left the only structure that had not yet been taken by fire, they faced extreme fire conditions with limited visibility. Luckily, over the din of fire and flame and high winds, they heard what they thought was a bulldozer in the distance.
They followed the sound of the dozer. And “by the grace of God” found its source, a dozer operator cutting a fire break, a trail off the ridge to safety where other forestry crews were waiting to take them off the mountain.
The damage that remained
In all, the Hatcher Mountain/Indigo Lane fire burned nearly 2,500 acres in the Great Smoky Mountains, affecting almost 220 structures and causing roughly $65 million in damage.
Roughly 11,000 people were evacuated due to the blaze which officials believe was caused by downed power lines.
The Northview-Kodak firefighters were safe but lost their truck – valued at $350,000 to $450,000 – and equipment in the blaze.
Insurance is covering $157,000 of the cost, but the department is well short of the funds needed to replace the essential fire-fighting equipment that was lost.
In all, they’re about $700,000 in the hole.
How you can help: The Northview-Kodak Volunteer Fire Department fundraiser
In an effort to bridge the gap, the VFD is holding a fundraising dinner and auction. They are also asking for items to be auctioned and donations as well.
The dinner will be Saturday, May 21 at 4 pm. The live auction will start at 6 pm. Dinner will be provided by Buddy’s Bar-B-Q.
Kay Byrd – whose husband is a charter member and chairs the board of directors – is helping organize the fundraiser.
She said before heading to the fire, the crew loaded extra equipment from another truck and that equipment was lost as well.
Now, with massive new developments coming to the Kodak area, the VFD is facing a significant financial decision.
“We’re really wanting to not have to finance a lot of money for the truck,” she said. “We’re hoping and praying we’ll get it.”
So far, the prayers are being answered. For example, Sugarlands Distillery donated $10,000 which triggered a donation from Vulcan Materials, which pledged to match up to $5,000.
“When a donation comes in like that it makes me feel good,” Kay said. “It’s good to see our community come together.”
In addition to Buddy’s Bar-B-Q for the meal, Bush’s Baked Beans has donated lots of baked beans and Cracker Barrel has also donated sides. Swaggerty’s has donated hot dogs.
State Rep. Dale Carr made a donation plus he’s donating his time as an auctioneer.
“He can really raise the money,” she said.
How to make a direct donation
Kay said that even though the fire did significant damage to the department’s equipment, the most important thing was the firefighters made it out safely.
“Even though we lost [the truck and equipment] they can be replaced but our firefighters can’t,” she said. “We’re lucky that nobody got hurt.”
With developments in Kodak, the community is going to need some firetrucks.
Donations will be accepted at any CNB bank and direct donations can be sent to the Northview Fire Department Fund. Checks can be mailed directly to:
PO Box 4, Kodak TN 37764 (Attention Kay Byrd)
All proceeds and donations will go to fund the replacement of the lost equipment.
For more information, or to donate an item for the auction, contact Kay Byrd at (865) 548-1956.