When fire sweeps through a neighborhood, it takes away memories, destroys homes and changes lives forever.
For firefighters in East Tennessee, the scenes of devastation in California are all too familiar. Less than a year ago, many were battling the deadly wildfires in Sevier County.
"There are similarities because you have residential and commercial structures that you have to take care of, you've got to make sure that you get all of the people out," said Mark Wilbanks, assistant chief of the Knoxville Fire Department. "Gatlinburg was the fifth largest wildfire dollar value in the United States at the time. We may be seeing some larger values of dollars in California right now."
Wilbanks was one of the first to arrive in Sevier County last November. No firefighters from East Tennessee have been called upon to go to California yet, but departments are always ready in case they are needed.
"They have a lot of different fires in a lot of different areas in California and it is extremely difficult to manage right now," Wilbanks said. "To be perfectly honest, it's almost chaos out there right now."
More than 73,000 acres have already burned in Northern California while flames have torched about 7,000 acres in the southern part of the state. More than 17,000 acres burned in the Sevier County fires, including about 11,000 acres inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
More than 2,500 buildings were damaged or destroyed in the Sevier County fires, and 14 people died. In California, 2,000 buildings have already burned, and at least 15 people have died.
"If they're wind driven, they're just going to devastate and destroy an area very quickly," Wilbanks said. "You have multiple structures catching on fire because these fires are sometimes miles wide."