GATLINBURG - One of the most devastated communities by the wildfires in Gatlinburg was the Westgate Resorts, but the owners are already making plans to reopen and rebuild.
When the wildfire roared through Westgate, located just off the Spur near Gatlinburg, it left little behind.
“We lost 70 buildings, comprising about 800 keys of units, our check-in facility, restaurant, our laundry facility,” said Mark Waltrip, COO of Westgate Resorts.
Many of those structures we taken down to just the foundations.
Waltrip said the fire reduced the resort to about one third its size, but luckily, all of the 1200 guests staying their escaped without injury.
Several brave employees are being credited with getting many of those people out.
“Oh it was like hell. That’s all I can say.,” said Ray Jones, who oversees transportation for the resort.
His team ran door to door when the fire was at its peak, warning guests to get out.
“The traffic was enormous, the fire was enormous. It was just turmoil everywhere you looked,” said Jones.
Employees who stayed to make sure everyone got out recall those moments.
“Cars were stopped on the roads, people were screaming honking their horns, I heard people yelling for help, one said.
”“The scaredest I've ever been in my life,” said another.
Now, they look to the future.
“Despite the rumors of our demise we plan to be cleaned up and open within the next two weeks,” he said.
“We will have the resort not just rebuilt but built even better within the next 18 months. We start construction on Friday, we have architects planners on site.”
As for the 1100 people employed by the resort, Waltrip said about two-thirds will keep their current jobs and one- third will have a choice, either to join a construction or cleanup crew, or transfer to another Westgate property around the country.
“Our goal is to put back everybody so they don’t have to go through Christmas without a job,” said Waltrip.
(© 2016 WBIR)