After thousands of acres burned in Sevier County wildfires, residents on Shields Mountain are thanking two Sevierville men for leaving their burning cabins to save their lives.
Matthew Layton’s family owns and manages Backhome Log Cabins, a cabin rental business along the mountain. Despite the wildfire decimating three-fourths of those cabins, Layton helped evacuate as many as 17 residents from the mountain last Monday night.
“On the way up [the mountain], he said, ‘Brian, that whole mountain’s on fire,’ ” his friend and neighbor Brian McGee recalled. “He said, ‘If we don't get up there and go around those cabins … those people are going to die. We've got to go save them.’ "
Layton said the mountain only has one paved road, which was blocked by burning trees at the time, so he and McGee hauled into McGee’s pickup truck and escorted residents down dirt roads.
"I know every nook and cranny, I know every bump in the road. I know everything about this mountain, and luckily it came in handy," Layton said.
The two say they also knocked on doors to alert residents about the emergency.
“I owe that guy my life,” said Steve Pressley, who had lived on Shields Mountain for many years. Pressley’s home is now burnt to rubble, but he made it out with his life after Layton picked him up and drove him down.
Layton said Pressley was asleep when the flames erupted.
“He saw my car was still there, and he came up the stairs, banged on my door and said, ‘You’ve got to get out of here right now!’” Pressley recalled. “And I thank him from the bottom of my heart.”
"I'm no different than -- I'm sure, hundreds of stories," McGee said. Neither of the men call themselves heroes; they said anyone in their position would do the same.
McGee lost some of the cabins he owned to the fire. With so much to rebuild, McGee said he is resting on one gleam of hope to bring closure.
“I just want to know that their lives are going to go on. It makes me happy inside -- It makes it all worthwhile," he said.