“For future generations, I think it’s really important for them to understand that in times of trouble, people do come together.” Fran Day of the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts was recalling the Chimney Tops 2 wildfires that in 2016 ravaged the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and surrounding communities. Her video recorded comments are part of an oral history project undertaken by the University of Tennessee Libraries in partnership with the City of Gatlinburg and the Anna Porter Public Library in Gatlinburg.
Over the past few years, Rising from the Ashes: The Chimney Tops 2 Wildfires Oral History Project collected around 140 audio and video interviews with individuals who experienced the devastating and tragic wildfires. This November marks the fifth anniversary of the wildfires, and the Rising from the Ashes project will soon make those interviews available on the UT Libraries website.
Fourteen people perished in the Chimney Tops 2 fire, more than 200 were injured, and thousands were forced to evacuate. Over 17,000 acres were burned, and nearly 2,600 buildings and homes were damaged or destroyed.
The oral histories include interviews with those who lost homes and businesses, first responders, recovery specialists and representatives from charitable and volunteer organizations, government officials, fire and forestry experts, scientists, artists, lawyers, journalists, clergy, health care and mental health professionals, educators, and many others.
The interviews are preserved for posterity in the UT Libraries’ Betsey B. Creekmore Special Collections and University Archives.
UT Libraries is also engaged in a grant project funded by the National Endowment for the Arts that will use art to raise awareness of the wildfires and the emotional and environmental scars left in their wake. The artwork will be featured in forthcoming exhibits, and the libraries will host public programming with the artists. We hope that this project will demonstrate interesting and meaningful uses of archives and special collections to bear witness to historical events, to engage the community, and to foster understanding and healing from disasters such as the Chimney Tops fires.
Follow the libraries’ Speaking Volumes blog for announcements about the Rising from the Ashes project.
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