Columbus, GA (WTVM) - As deadly wildfires continue to rage in East Tennessee, people in the Chattahoochee Valley say they're heartbroken, many with fond memories of trips to Gatlinburg.
For Columbus resident Jay Singleton, Gatlinburg is more than just a vacation getaway.
"When I was a teenager, my mom passed away, and friends of mine took me up there to get my mind off of it," he said. "It just has always held such a special place in our hearts."
Singleton and his family are watching wildfires tear through Gatlinburg and East Tennessee. He said he's at least happy to see many people there escaped unharmed.
"We're relieved that people are okay," Singleton said. "We first started seeing pictures on social media yesterday of the smoke, and that it was getting closer, and then we were amazed at how quickly the fire overtook the city."
The city that he loves, he said, is a love he's passed to his wife, Trina.
"For our honeymoon," he said, "I introduced my wife to Gatlinburg, and we've loved it ever since. That's been our home away from home."
Over 20 years, the journey became a family tradition for Jay, Trina and now their son Jonah, creating his own favorite memories in Gatlinburg in places such as Pigeon Forge, Little Pigeon River, and his favorite restaurant when he goes to Gatlinburg, No Way, Jose.
Still, Singleton said he's concerned about the threat the fires pose over parts of the town where close family friends live.
"What we don't know about is where we have friends in the arts and craft community that's kind of off the beaten path," he said. "We really don't know about their homes or any of those places as of yet."
As the fire continues to spread, the Singletons are praying no more of their favorite activities are destroyed.
"We've had pictures of us playing hillbilly golf this year, that's something we've done - that's gone," Jay said.
The Singletons said they hope to make their next trip up to Gatlinburg this upcoming Spring. As for popular tourist spots in town, Dollywood is set to reopen Friday, while the famous Ripley's Aquarium reportedly had to leave thousands of animals behind.
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