GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Chad Bentz, his wife Julie, and their three children are back in South Mississippi, going through the daily routine of dropping off the kids at school. While the family was in Gatlinburg, TN, they knew something was not quite right, according to Bentz.
"Towards the end of the week, after we got through Thanksgiving, in the mornings and the evenings, if the wind was blowing, you could smell smoke, and the air quality level changed to an orange from a green, which is healthy," Bentz recalled.
The Bentzs stayed in a cabin that has received national exposure. They were the last ones there.
"It burnt to the ground," Bentz said. "I spoke to the owner of the cabin yesterday morning, and he sent me some videos and pictures from surveillance, and it got totally destroyed. The whole row on the mountain where we were is just gone."
The scope of destruction caught Bentz by surprise.
"You think of a wildfire in an undeveloped community where it just rushes through and it's just woods. These are structures and businesses and people live there. So no, it was very hard to believe," Bentz lamented.
The roaring fire also brings back memories of another disaster the family went through.
"It reminds me of Hurricane Katrina. That people just came back to absolutely nothing. That they built their whole lives and their house or their community or their businesses and a lot of it is gone, and it's really heartbreaking."
Even through the tragedies are similar, Bentz feels something else is also the same.
"Tennessee is a lot like Mississippi. We're strong people, and I think that it will come back, that they will rebuild. It's such a beautiful area that I hope the national park gets back, the trees and the beauty of it all comes back," said Bentz.
That's what the rest of the country is hoping for as well.
Despite the fire, the Bentz family will continue to vacation in Gatlinburg on a regular basis.