I thought we were going to die. If that angel of a man hadn’t appeared, if he hadn’t helped us, we would be dead.
April Calhoun, mother of four, recounts the harrowing story of how she, her husband and their children fled the fires and the miraculous rescue from a mysterious stranger.
It all started with the eruption of a fire on Sunday, November 27, in an area called The Chimneys, in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. By Monday morning both April and her husband, Terry, were getting concerned.
“The sky was filled with smoke and you could smell it,” Terry recalled. But later that morning, they saw blue sky and thought all was well. By the afternoon, their situation changed. The sky had turned orange and the family was becoming uneasy.
The smoke continued to thicken so the Calhouns started taping and papering the windows and doors to keep the smoke out. “We still thought we were ok. Our phones didn’t go off with any warning, so we decided it was just the smoke traveling down our way into the valley,” Terry said.
“By 8:30 that night, the power went out and we know something was very wrong,” Terry said. So they took out their cell phones and turned on the flashlight feature. “We could see the rooms filling up with layers of smoke,” Terry recalls. He then cut a hole in the paper covering a window.
April’s eyes start to glisten with tears as she recounts that night. “When Terry looked out, he went faint. What he saw – the flames, they were burning the buildings near us. We couldn’t believe it.”
Terry and April had only moments to grab their children, ages 4, 10, 11 and 13, and flee for their lives. “We didn’t have time for our pets…they’re family too, you know, but we didn’t have time,” April recounts. “We didn’t have a car, so we just started running.”
The family ran down highway 321, through the thickening smoke and past the flames. “Honestly, I’ve never been so scared.” April remembers, “My children…oh, I thought we were going to die.” Her voice cracks, and emotion overtakes her and Terry finishes recounting their terrifying ordeal. “She’s right, we thought we weren’t going to make it. Nobody stopped. We were choking on the smoke and running as fast as we could. I just didn’t know if we were going to make it.”
Suddenly, they saw help across the road. “We saw a silver pickup truck.” Terry said. “A man ran towards us and told us to get in.” This mysterious man drove the family to the safety of the community center. “All we know is that he said he was a veteran and was from Cosby [a nearby town]. But we never saw him again and we don’t know his name.”
Terry agrees, “We owe him our lives. Wherever he is, we want to say thank him. He got us to safety and then he was gone. We never got a chance to say, ‘thank you’ for saving us.”
The Calhoun family has lost everything. Still, they continue to give thanks to not only their mysterious angel, but to the American Red Cross and the volunteers at the shelter housed in the Rocky Top Sports Complex.
“They’ve done an awesome job helping us, feeding us and making sure we’re ok. I can’t thank them enough. So many folks here are trying to help us, and we really appreciate it. We’re safe now, and that’s what’s important,” praised Terry. “But, I hope you can find our angel and tell him ‘thank you’ for saving our lives.”