A large fire destroyed part of a 32-unit building at Westgate Smoky Mountain Resorts in Gatlinburg.
At 12:37 a.m. Wednesday, the Gatlinburg Fire Department responded to a structure fire at Westgate Resorts. When firefighters arrived, city officials said they found one of the unoccupied buildings that was in the midst of rebuilding from the Sevier County wildfires engulfed in flames.
Daniel Ormsby, an Air Force firefighter from Florida, was staying with his family in the next building.
“We had our window open, and we started smelling smoke or fire and were like, what is it, so we opened the blinds and we could see the fire coming from the second or third floor of the adjacent building we were staying in,” said Ormsby.
He said he called the desk and reported the fire, then went to make sure no one was in the building and even picked up a water hose to start fighting the flames. He said the fire spread quickly.
“It was scary for the younger kids that were out, seeing the embers come down and hit the cars and the flames being close the building we were at,” said Ormsby.
Mike Caudill was also a guest in a nearby building. He couldn't help but think about the devastating wildfires in 2016 that nearly destroyed Westgate and hundreds of other buildings in Gatlinburg and Sevier County.
“You just saw the building with blazes coming out, embers every way. And actually as we drove down the hill some of the underbrush was on fire. Very little but some of it was,” Caudill said.
The Kentucky man said flames were shooting a good 20 to 30 feet up above the building.
Everyone was evacuated safely.
People living near the resort shared pictures and video on social media, saying they woke up at 1 a.m. to find a massive fire engulfing one of the units at the resort.
A post shared by Christopher Bryant (@chrispbryant) on
Gatlinburg crews immediately called for assistance from Pigeon Forge and Sevierville fire departments, as well as the Sevier County Volunteer Fire Department.
Crews battled heavy flames and smoke from the roof of the four-story structure. No one was reported to be injured.
At 5 a.m., crews said they had controlled the flames and were going to continue battling and looking for hot spots through the morning. Three ladders, six trucks and 75 workers remained at the scene after the flames were extinguished to control the hot spots.
Guests were evacuated and moved to other accommodations in the area. Two nearby buildings also had to be evacuated as a precaution for smoke.
The cause of the fire is unknown at the moment, according to city officials. Westgate Resort said the building was about six months from being rebuilt after much of the resort burned down in the Nov. 2016 Sevier County wildfires.
Crews said they estimate about 25 percent of the building was badly damaged in the fire. Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort General Manager Russell Archuleta said it's too soon to tell if the building can be easily repaired or rebuilt, or if they will have to tear it down and start from scratch again.
“We are a great destination and a community at large, and there’s a sense of spirit. Really promoting this as a destination hasn't changed, this isn’t going to hold us back,” he said.
Westgate Resort broke ground on reconstruction in Feb. 2017. The Nov. 2016 wildfires claimed two-thirds of its buildings in addition to the resort's check-in facility, restaurant and a laundry facility. The rebuilding project was initially expected to take 18-24 months to finish.
Westgate is one of Gatlinburg's largest employers, and its resort took nearly 17 years to construct before the wildfires claimed most of it.