In the ashes of the Tennessee fires, a prayer is answered - | WBTV Charlotte

In the ashes of the Tennessee fires, a prayer is answered

The group digging through the rubble (Credit: Bobby Kellum) The group digging through the rubble (Credit: Bobby Kellum)
The two items recovered in the ashes: a peace sign and a cross (Credit: Doug Roundtree) The two items recovered in the ashes: a peace sign and a cross (Credit: Doug Roundtree)

When Jennifer and Bruce Irvine of Charlotte decided to help Jennifer’s lifelong friends in Tennessee sift through the ashes of the home, Bruce lead a prayer. He asked the Lord to guide them in their search, but he also asked God for peace and love, above all else.

“As we drove toward Lucinda and Doug’s house, it was just devastating. It took our breath away. Giant patches of the scorched mountainside, homes reduced to ashes. But it was also strange to see the homes here and there spared from flames,” Jennifer told me by phone.

Jennifer grew up in Hendersonville, Tennessee just outside Nashville. Jennifer has known Lucinda and Doug Roundtree most of her life. When she got word their cabin in the Wears Valley was burned, she and Bruce decided to help them search for memorabilia that might have survived the flames.

“They have a friend who is a firefighter who gave us the gear we needed, special masks. There were still hot spots and still so much smoke in the air,” Jennifer said.

“The fire that tore through their neighborhood started when a transformer exploded. There had been 70 mile-per-hour winds that knocked out the transformer and the fire spread,” Jennifer said. “Eighty-five homes in Wears Valley, near Gatlinburg, burned.” 

Jennifer, Bruce, Lucinda, and Doug were joined by their other long-time friends, Jackie and Kelly Billingsley. As a group, they spent hours raking and moving ashes in hopes they would find tokens of the happy home that once stood on this majestic hillside.

“We just raked through what was once their log cabin. We found a broken tea cup and some skillets. And then we found the two things we believe were signs from God,” Jennifer said.

They discovered an iron cross that once greeted visitors just inside the door of what was once the Roundtree’s home. They also found a large metal peace sign.

“I guess the most important thing is that in the end, that cabin represented peace and love to us. And we found the peace sign and the cross in the ashes. The cross to us represents love,” Doug Roundtree said.

Jennifer says there were many tears shed.

“It was humbling. We cried a lot, and we realized the ashes were just what was left of ‘things’. We were lucky, we still had each other and this was just a cabin. At least we will always have each other,” Jennifer told me.

The families were leaving the mountain in three cars when they passed an older woman with her hand held to her mouth, sobbing. In front of her, a similar scene to the one they’d just left. Rubble. Nothing but rubble.

Lucinda and Doug told the Irvines to drive ahead. They wanted to turn around and speak to the woman.

Turns out she’d just purchased the home a month before with the life insurance money she received on her husband’s passing. She told them, the cabin was all she had. She was supposed to move in soon. It would be her primary home.

Doug and Lucinda said the sight and pain of her loss hurt them more than the loss of their own cabin. They knew they could rebuild their lives in the valley, but not everyone will have the same outcome. They tell us they are keeping all their neighbors and others who lost loved ones in their prayers.

Lucinda, who is a minister, went back with her husband where the pair ministered to the older woman and prayed with her for 45 minutes.

As Jennifer points out that woman truly represents "all these people who have moved up there, sold everything to be in the mountains, in your golden years and have lost so much."

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