- Associated Press - Saturday, January 7, 2017

GATLINBURG, Tenn. (AP) - Fire blocked Pete Juker from getting off a Sevier County mountain on Nov. 28.

With no safe passage, the Ober Gatlinburg Ski Patrol member stayed inside a resort with about 30 others while the Great Smoky Mountains burned overnight.

The fire took the house he and his wife owned, along with the homes of two other ski patrol members. Their losses were among more than 2,400 structures that burned down in the November wildfire.

To help the Jukers and other ski patrol members get back on their feet, coworkers have set up a gofundme account. The response has been so great that the funding deadline has been extended through January; and Juker has begun to help others who were affected by the fires.

Glenn Campbell, the representative for the Ober Gatlinburg Ski Patrol, said he established the gofundme account. By nature, he said, ski patrol members tend to be helpful people.

“When the fires broke out, everybody was affected,” Campbell said. “We were concerned for everyone’s safety and their homes. People just wanted to help. We know each other and we’re pretty tightly knit. … It’s just to help them get back on their feet.”

And it did. The $20,000 fundraising goal was reached, but Campbell said he plans to extend the fundraising longer.

Juker said that funds he has received are going to others in the community that may have slipped through the cracks in the emergency response. People who didn’t have homes, but lived out of inexpensive hotel rooms, need help too, he said. That’s the point behind the Heal & Rebuild Project, which he started in the days after the fire with a $50,000 loan.

As fires bore down on Gatlinburg the evening of Nov. 28, Juker was evacuated from Ober Gatlinburg. Juker’s wife was still at home.

“All the evacuees went down Ski Mountain Road,” he said. “I tried to go across the mountain on Garrett Road, and I ran into a roadblock. There was a fire team up there that was trying to go up and out to the fire … they told me to get out of there.”

He headed back toward Ober Gatlinburg, looking to take another route out of the resort. No luck.

“And then I tried to go to the four-way stop in Chalet Village, there was a wall of fire with cars in front of me that were trying to get out,” he said.

The best option was to return to the parking lot of Ober Gatlinburg, far from the reach of the fire. His wife was able to evacuate from their home with their pets.

“At that point, I contacted the family who owns Ober Gatlinburg and said, ‘We’ve got a lot of people in the parking lot. If I can find my way into this building, I’ve got a pretty good safe place up there’,” Juker said.

With his wife safe and himself in a somewhat secure location, he took in the people who couldn’t get down the mountain. They holed up at Ober Gatlinburg.

“I spent the night making sure that we were not going to get overrun with fire,” Juker said.

The next day, he visited the lot where his house once was.

“I was driving through a neighborhood where all the landmarks were gone, and everything was still smoking,” he said. “Things were still burning at various different corners. Even at my house there was an underground fire where the trees used to be. It had burned down into the ground. It was a different world.”

He said that basically everything they owned had burned away.

“The stuff itself - I’ve made my peace with it,” Juker said. “They’re in my memory, but they’re gone. Family heirlooms that we’ll never replace. There are pictures that I can never replace.”

It wasn’t long before the donations came in to help the Jukers and two others who were on ski patrol at Ober Gatlinburg.

“Our patrol is mostly volunteers, and they like to help other people,” Campbell said.

That volunteer spirit translates across people on ski patrol, he said. Campbell set up a Gofundme account for the ski patrol, and at least two others exist for patrollers in Gatlinburg.

Ski Patrollers from Beech Mountain sent replacement gear for the four who lost theirs in Gatlinburg to the fire. Another ski patroller from the Western United States set up another Gofundme account.

Juker himself has designed a fund that helps people who may not qualify for other disaster assistance, the Heal & Rebuild Project. He said that he’s well-insured and plans to rebuild. Campbell, an architect, is even going to help him design the new house - a Swiss-style chalet with a low-slung roof. But as he plans to rebuild his home, and maybe even better than before, Juker said he knows that others aren’t as well-positioned as he is.

So money he gets from charitable sources is going to the Heal & Rebuild Project, Juker said.

“We have several families that we adopted for Christmas,” he said.

Juker said that he knows rebuilding the lives and structures around Gatlinburg will take some time. He said that everyone grieves differently, and that different people will have different needs as time and effort helps people heal.

“The basic idea is to heal and rebuild yourself, and your soul,” he said, “then you can heal and rebuild your house and your community.”

___

Information from: Knoxville News Sentinel, https://www.knoxnews.com

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