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Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts rebuilds stronger two years after fires

The art school lost three buildings in the fire, but chose to build back stronger than before.

SEVIER COUNTY — Below a ridge line still scarred by the flames, lies a town where recovery is not just a mindset, but a way of life.

Two years after the Sevier County wildfires killed 14 and damaged more than 2,400 homes and businesses, Gatlinburg continues to be Smokies Strong.

"We’ve come a lot farther than I think any of us could have imagined who were here two years ago," said Bill May, the executive director of the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts. "It’s been obviously something that has been very difficult to come back from, and that is just a testament to the resiliency of this community."

On the night of the fire in 2016, May fled the Arrowmont School and returned to nearly a quarter of the campus burned. Gone now are many of the construction crews and burn marks, replaced two years later by buildings and homes stronger than before.

"We’ve taken this an opportunity to actually make improvements," said May. "When you’re faced with a challenge, the best thing you can do is respond and try to make it better."

A 42-bedroom dormitory stands tall where embers once lay. A fire hydrant sits prominently in front of the new building and the campus of the art school sits in the shadow of a new emergency warning siren.

"When something like this happens, your choice really is to accept it, understand it, and then pull together and plan that you’ll be better in the future. I think that is what this whole community has done," said May. "Two years later, it’s all about the outpouring of support, and the goodwill that has been shown towards the school and really toward the whole community."