Gatlinburg family barely escapes burning neighborhood

A Gatlinburg woman and her family narrowly escaped their burning neighborhood with their lives Monday evening.

A Gatlinburg woman and her family narrowly escaped their burning neighborhood with their lives Monday evening.

Now, they face the possibility of homelessness and have their story of survival to share.

"This was it during the day. It was just smoke," Darlene Verito said, pointing to a photo of her smoky front yard she'd taken with her phone during the day Monday. “As far as we knew, (the fire) was 10 miles away - and it was just smoke."

Related: Residents, visitors describe fleeing flames

Sometime after dark, however, one of her sons came running, "saying, 'The hill is on fire.' We looked behind us, I saw a spark. My boyfriend Keith Flannery saw some sparks out front. He said, 'It's time to go.'"

As Verito, her boyfriend and their three sons were leaving to escape, "the whole backyard was in flames. The houses next to our were on fire."

The photo she then shot in the vehicle is horrifying.

“You felt the heat inside the car and you couldn't see two feet in front of you, and there was no one that was going to be able to come and help us," Verito said.

In the photo, a blaze of orange flames and smoke surround the vehicle.

"I actually, to be honest with you, when I was on the phone with 911, telling them we couldn't get down, I thought we were going to die," Verito said. "The smoke was filling the car, the heat, my kids - it was definitely survival mode."

The family managed to escape with their lives by driving several feet every time a strong gust of wind blew the smoke from the road. That's the only way they could see to drive, Verito explained.

"If we would've stayed a minute sooner, we wouldn't have gotten out because the roads were blocked," she said.

Now, Verito and her family just want to go home, a place they're not even sure exists anymore.

"I'm praying for a miracle. Like it happens with tornadoes and hurricanes. It gets this house, but not that house," Verito said. "I pray that all our houses are safe, but I pray that mine is still standing and that we have a place to go tomorrow."

She and her family are staying with friends in Sevierville.

"This is just devastating. It's really devastating," Verito said. "I just want to go home. I want to go to my house, our room, our bed and sit with our kids and I just want to be in our home."

She said she still doesn’t feel safe since the fire spread so quickly and unexpectedly to her own backyard.

"If it could spread in a matter of two hours to get where we were, it can spread here," she said.

(© 2016 WBIR)


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