Hundreds of first responders flooded into Sevier County to save lives and stop the fires that swept through parts of the county last week.
At least five Gatlinburg first responders continued working to help other people save their homes and businesses when they were facing losses of their own.
Amanda Perryman ended her shift as a firefighter and paramedic with the Gatlinburg Fire Department early in the morning of Monday, Nov. 28. She was heading out of town with her husband for vacation later that day, when they started getting urgent messages about a wildfire spreading fast.
The couple traveled as far as on the other side of Knoxville, but immediately turned around and headed back home.
“We came here first to our home because my husband is a retired captain with the Gatlinburg Fire Department and he needed his fire gear so we got his fire gear,” she said as she stood beside the ruins of their Gatlinburg home on Thursday. “There wasn’t fire here yet. We could see it, but it was far away.
“I was looking at my house still not thinking it was going to burn and said, 'what should I grab?' And by that time we probably weren't here three minutes and my husband's yelling ‘we gotta go, we gotta go.’ We could see huge flames coming over the trees. And we didn't think we were going to make it out.”
Before they had time to process what they had just escaped, the couple went to work helping fight the flames.
Part-time firefighter Peter Thompson also lost his home due to the fire.
Thompson was working for Sevier County ambulance services on Nov. 28 when the fires began to spread. The fires made him question his job.
"It was pushed to the point where we questioned ourselves if we wanted to do this, and it made us stronger people," Thompson said. "It made us resilient, and proved this is what we want to do."
Perryman said there were times throughout the week that were difficult.
“[There were] times I might have had to step away for a minute," she said, "But, overall, everybody just kept working."
Nearly two weeks later, they’re just now allowing themselves time off to deal with their own property.
Perryman said she is thankful to have her life despite what she and her husband lost.
“It was so hard to know that people died... and I couldn’t do anything about it. I think that was hard on everybody,” she said.
She finds comfort in the number of people her department was able to save.
“So many brave men and women that we have that I work with. That risked their lives and didn't know if they were going to make it back out," Perryman said. "They rescued a lot of people and that makes me proud of them."
Perryman said they’ve received dozens of cards, messages and financial support from fire departments all around the world.
The Perrymans say they would love to rebuild in this same spot, but right now it's too soon to say. They do plan to stay in Gatlinburg.