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Uncle says fire victim was ready to die with parents before escape

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MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) -

It's a gut-wrenching story of survival that captured the hearts of Mid-Southerners, and those across the nation. A story of brothers fighting to survive after losing their parents in the deadly Sevier County wildfire.

The three Summers brothers narrowly escaped the wildfire that ripped through Gatlinburg. Sadly, their parents were both killed in the fire.

The community has rallied around the Summers family and now, the family is releasing details about the terror the boys endured and what they went through just to make it out alive. It seems like something stripped straight from a movie script.

"I have good days and bad," Jim Summers said.

Jim lost his brother, Jon, a Memphis architect, and his sister-in-law Janet in the fire. His three nephews, Wesley, Branson, and Jared were able to escape despite being severely burned.

Jim said it all started when a tree fell and blocked the escape path for the family.

"At some point the fire, a gust of wind just comes up, and it begins blowing fire straight at their faces," Jim said.

Jared and Wesley, twins, took off running through the wall of fire to escape. Jon and Janet were unable to run by this time and slowed.  Their oldest son, Branson remained with them.

"Branson stays with his parents. The parents are beginning to have real difficulty breathing," Jim said. "They are absolutely surrounded by fire."

Jim said Branson's parents told him to go and survive.

"He was going to stay there and die with his parents. They said you've got to go. We can't go. Save yourself," Jim said.

Branson ran up the road to find his brothers.  Meanwhile, the twins, who had been given Jon's phone before they began to run, got a phone call from the landlord who had called and told them to leave the cabin initially.  The person told them to find a house and break the water lines to wet down towels and bedspreads to put over their heads to protect themselves and be able to breathe.

The advice may have saved their lives.

The boys found a house and did just what they were told. 

"While they are in there, they see the house is now catching on fire," Jim said.

After Branson moves up the road, he spotted a car with an elderly couple in it. The elderly couple gave him a ride, but the car soon stalled and everyone got out. Before they left the car, Branson had taken his clothes off except for his underwear and socks.

As soon as they escaped from the car, the brothers heard what appeared to be the car exploding.

It was after the explosion that Branson's brothers ran out of the house where they had gone to find water, and found him on the ground.

"Branson is lying on the ground. He is in a fetal position. He doesn't have any clothes on," Jim said.

All three brothers, now back together, were in the middle of a firestorm with heavy smoke. They were unable to see because of the smoke and the darkness. However, they were still in contact with the landlord, and were able to see a road sign and tell him, and he was able to give them directions. He told them to run straight down the mountain, as there was a creek at the bottom.

"They begin rolling and tumbling and falling and scratching and running into trees all the way down. They get to the creek," Jim said.

The courageous brothers finally saw police lights and rushed for help.

"We're burned badly. We need help," they told police.

They were then put in the police car and later transferred to an ambulance. They were taken to LaConte hospital and then University of Tennessee, and then sent to Vanderbilt. They have very little memory after being placed in the ambulance.

The brothers are doing much better, but Branson and Wesley still will have to deal with a compression glove or sleeves,  and may have to wear theme for close to a year.  In spite of this, they hope to return to work within the next month or so. They are anxious to get back out in the world. 

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