Skip to main content
Filming for the Rising from the Ashes oral history project.

“For future generations, I think it’s really important for them to understand that in times of trouble, people do come together,” said Fran Day, of the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts, recalling the Chimney Tops 2 wildfires that in 2016 ravaged the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and surrounding communities. Her video-recorded comments are part of an oral history project undertaken by the University of Tennessee Libraries in partnership with the City of Gatlinburg and the Anna Porter Public Library in Gatlinburg.

Over the past few years, Rising from the Ashes: The Chimney Tops 2 Wildfires Oral History Project collected around 140 audio and video interviews with individuals who experienced the devastating and tragic wildfires. This November marks the fifth anniversary of the wildfires, and the Rising from the Ashes project will soon make those interviews available on the UT Libraries website.

“This project documents one of the most momentous events in modern Tennessee history—in the voices of those who lived it,” said Steve Smith, dean of the Libraries. “The collected stories document more than tragedy, however; they testify to the resilience of the human spirit. Our team is honored to help preserve these stories for history, study, learning, and research.”

Fourteen people perished in the Chimney Tops 2 fire, more than 200 were injured, and thousands were forced to evacuate. Over 17,000 acres were burned, and nearly 2,600 buildings and homes were damaged or destroyed.

burning mountains
Courtesy of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The oral histories include interviews with those who lost homes and businesses, first responders, recovery specialists and representatives from charitable and volunteer organizations, government officials, fire and forestry experts, scientists, artists, lawyers, journalists, clergy, health care and mental health professionals, educators, and many others.

The interviews are preserved for posterity in the UT Libraries’ Betsey B. Creekmore Special Collections and University Archives.

UT Libraries is also engaged in a grant project funded by the National Endowment for the Arts that will use art to raise awareness of the wildfires and the emotional and environmental scars left in their wake. The artwork will be featured in forthcoming exhibits and programming with the artists. The project aims to demonstrate interesting and meaningful uses of archives and special collections to bear witness to historical events, to engage the community, and to foster understanding and healing from disasters such as the Chimney Tops fires.

Follow the libraries’ Speaking Volumes blog for announcements about the Rising from the Ashes project.


Lindsey Owen (865-974-6375,

Steven Escar Smith (865-974-6600,