Heartfelt efforts ramping up in River Region to help Gatlinburg fire victims

Heartfelt efforts ramping up in River Region to help Gatlinburg fire victims
(Source: WSFA 12 News)
(Source: WSFA 12 News)
(Source: WSFA 12 News)
(Source: WSFA 12 News)
(Source: WSFA 12 News)
(Source: WSFA 12 News)
(Source: WSFA 12 News)
(Source: WSFA 12 News)

PRATTVILLE, AL (WSFA) - Gatlinburg plans to reopen for business this week, but a somber tone rests over the city.

Fourteen lives have been lost and more than 130 are hurt after wildfires swept through the popular vacation spot in Tennessee.

Homeowners and business-owners are back, and many are finding only charred remains in the area where their buildings once stood.

Typically buzzing during the holiday seasons, the city had to cancel its Christmas Parade and the popular Winter Magic Trolley Ride of Lights.

Images from Gatlinburg continue to send shock waves across the country, including here in the River Region.

Autauga County residents are stepping up to get much-needed items to the victims.

For Prattville couple Todd and Mandi Woods, the tourist town holds a special place in their hearts. They've formed many fond family memories there and visited only a few months ago.

When they saw footage of the devastation left by deadly fires, they took action to help those who lost everything with a charity drive.

"We've always loved the area in Gatlinburg. We've gone up there and taken our kids up there so the news hit us pretty hard when we saw the events unfolding on TV. I had the thought of starting this for those people and for those children," Todd Woods said.

They've organized "Gathering Goodies for Gatlinburg" and have been collecting clothing (coats, hats, gloves, sweaters, pants, shoes, socks, undergarments), baby items (diapers, wipes, formula, baby lotion, etc.), pet items (food, kennels), blankets, personal hygiene products (toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, lotion, feminine products, combs, brushes), water, sports drinks, protein bars, and toys.

"If your house burned down a month before Christmas, what would you need? We really want to give these kids a good Christmas," Todd Woods said.

As many as 14,000 people were evacuated from Gatlinburg and the surrounding area after a wildfire on the Great Smoky Mountain National Park's Chimneys Top 2 Trail spread into the city. Seventeen thousand acres have burned, 1,700 structures were damaged or destroyed and 14 people died as a result of the blaze. More than 130 people were injured.

Investigators are looking for anyone who could provide information on what, or who, might have caused the fire, which is believed to have been started by human actions.

Authorities are looking for anyone who hiked the Chimney Tops Trail on Wednesday, Nov. 23. Anyone with information is asked to call the Tip Line at 1-888-653-0009.

Meanwhile, residents are beginning to rebuild their lives with the assistance of organizations and caring people like the Woods, who will be taking all of the donations to Tennessee this weekend with the help of friends.

They're working with several faith-based organizations in the Gatlinburg area to distribute all of the items to families directly impacted by the disaster.

"We love the area, love the people, love the hospitality. We just wanted to give back," Todd Woods added. "I think, especially in this part of the country, when tragedy happens, we pull together and there's people that really care. We want them to know we're thinking about you and help's on the way."

The Woods will be accepting donations through Thursday night at close of business.

Drop off locations include Carl's Country (426 County Road 4 E in Prattville) and Magic Muffler & Brake ( 980 South Memorial Drive in Prattville).

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