Six months after the devastating fires in Sevier County, homeowners are still unsure whether to rebuild or leave their property behind.
Out of the 2,545 structures destroyed, 25 percent are in the process of being rebuilt and roughly half are in the process of being demolished, according to the planning directors for both Sevier County and Gatlinburg.
As of Friday afternoon, 300 rebuilding permits were issued and approximately 1,200 demolition permits have been issued for Sevier County and Gatlinburg.
Making the Decision
Caution tape is the only thing left behind on Robert and Daryl Hullander's property off Campbell Lead Road.
The Hullanders, both in their 80s, escaped the fire by rushing down the mountain.
"The only reasonable thing to do that time was go down a hill," Robert said.
After making the easy decision to run the night of the fires, they faced another decision shortly after, to rebuild or not.
"I am 83 years old and you say, okay it would take a year, I might not even live to see the house rebuilt," Robert exclaimed.
Their stage in life and a new need to be closer to family drove them out of the mountains. Their daughter Teresa is battling cancer and the Hullanders want to be close to her for her health and their own.
"This is more convenient for the things we have to do plus you know, at our age, something is always leaking, breaking or falling off so all of our doctors are here so all of those things added up to be this is the obvious choice," Robert said.
On the other side of the mountain, Pete and Joy Jucker met with their contractor to start the rebuilding process.
They made the decision to rebuild only days after the fires destroyed everything they owned.
"Our a frame was called Little Bear, and we've already decided on a new name, it's going to be New Bear because its going to be brand new start," Joy Jucker told 10News in December 2016.
They have decided to rebuild their post-fire home in a smarter and stronger design.
"We found what we want to put on here, a home that's new construction, new type of materials. I don't think there's going to be another home built like this in this area yet," Pete Jucker said.
They have decided to use Timberblock, a custom, insulated and environmentally-friendly home.
"We've never built a house together. It's just another chapter in our lives. We'll get through it. We've got a lot of expert help right behind us, pushing us forward," Joy said.
While the Juckers will continue to call Gatlinburg home, the Hullanders will never forget their home and the view on Campbell Lead Road.
"We left the best view we ever had and we had some great ones but that was the best view we ever had and we do miss that a lot," Robert Hullander said.
The Rebuilding Process
In the months following the fires, the planning and development offices in Sevier County and Gatlinburg have been extremely busy helping families through the rebuilding process.
"There are several folks who are well underway and have started rebuilding," said Jeff Ownby, the planning director for Sevier County.
At the six month mark, they have seen more people apply for demolition permits than rebuilding permits.
"I think that initial push of folks was to try and get their properties clean and then begin planning for the rebuilding process," said David Ball, the planning director for the city of Gatlinburg.
Ball noted there is a deadline to have properties cleared: Sept. 30, 2017 within the city limits and Dec. 31 for the county. But not everyone is rebuilding.
"Out of 1,200 residences in the county, over a period of a couple of years we may see 600 build back," Ownby said.
Ownby and Ball cite several reasons behind the decision to move on.
"Some of the issues with rebuilding and the reason it's taken longer is because the resources are not there as far as surveyors, builders, architects, there is such a demand for those folks right now," Ball said.
The numbers may seem daunting, but people are staying.
"There's a heartfelt desire for people to get back," Ownby said.
In fact, there are already people who have rebuilt and are back in their homes.
Jimmy Ogle and his wife Carol are one of three families already back home under a new roof.
"It was really nice for a change because you have your own stuff again," Ogle said while sitting on his new porch.
There are also some families just starting the process like the Juckers.
Dan Mitchell, their contractor, will handle all the permits for them.
"We're in place to help them alleviate those fears and to be able to address their concerns," Mitchell said.
Mitchell, who is also the president of the Home Builders Association of Greater Knoxville, said they will have to rebuild to the current building codes.
"The codes that we are operating in within the city of Gatlinburg and then also within the county have been codes that have actually been on the books for about a year to two years now," Mitchell added.
Along with complying with the codes, both the county and city are helping homeowners with the zoning process.
If a home was damaged by more than 50 percent, they will allow people to rebuild in the same footprint.
"Everything that's going back is being done professionally and with safety and quality in mind and I think that's such a positive for our county in general," Ownby said.
As people weigh their options, these planning directors will wait to help in anyway they can to rebuild their home that is Sevier County.
The Mountain Tough Recovery Team, initiated after the fires, has a step-by-step process for people looking to rebuild.
To rebuild, one must acquire a demolition permit first through either the City of Gatlinburg or Sevier County planning offices.
The following information will be required for a permit:
- Project address
- Owners name, mailing address and phone number
- Contractor (person doing work name)
- Contractor phone number
- Copy of Business License or Contractors License
- Cost of project
Click here to fill out the permit application.
The Appalachia Service Project is also helping people rebuild what was lost.
Eligible applicants meet the following criteria:
- Households owning a renters property that was damaged by the Nov. 28 fire in Sevier County, and that it is not practical/feasible to repair the property.
- The total household income is at or below 100 percent of MRB income limits ($59,713 for a family of one or two, $68,670 for a family of three or more).
- Families that did not have homeowners’ or renters’ insurance, or were demonstrably under-insured.
To apply with ASP, click here.