For Triad families who know east Tennessee well, this has been a heartbreaking week watching wildfires ravage the area. For some it was a close call.
For decades, the Howard-Davis Family of Winston-Salem have met up every two years for a reunion in Pigeon Forge. They were there this past weekend but left on Sunday, a day before the fires broke out.
"Just being together was just awesome," said family member Deborah Lindsey.
"It's just a good family-oriented place to be," said family matriarch Annie Howard.
Every 2 years for the past 25 they've traveled from near and far to Pigeon Forge on Thanksgiving weekend.
"We were raised close and so we wanted our children to have that same experience," said Lindsey.
This past weekend was their 13th trip. "We were blessed to have 60 people there and it was just like wow” said Lindsey.
The reunion ended Sunday. Just a day before the fires spread.
"I was in disbelief because I was like 'oh my goodness' and I'm looking at places that we actually drove into Gatlinburg that were burning and it was sad because we just left," remembered Lindsey.
"That's our home away from home so I couldn't imagine people who actually live there, that is their home,” said family member Tenae Howard. “Seeing it in flames, it was very sad moment."
A week of shock and awe as the place where this family built so many memories, wiped out by a deadly wildfire. But also relief they left when they did.
"I felt empathy for the people that were in it but I was so blessed that we got out of there," said Annie Howard.
As they watch the mountains go up in flames, family members also reflect on what their younger generations will miss. "Some of those moments that we've experienced and shared, they won't be able to experience them because they're no longer there," said Tenae Howard.
A close call for this close-knit family knowing a higher power was watching over them.
"We could've been up that mountain and we were there several times, things could've went another way but God protected us," said Lindsey.
Family members said they've heard the hotel where they stay was safe from the fires. They plan to go back for their 14th retreat in 2 years.
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