As the flames rose up the forested Tennessee mountain, the Holmes family knew they would have to leave their home now or risk losing their lives. With not a moment to lose, then, they grabbed everything they could and fled to safety. However, there was one special member of their family that they were unable to take with them.
The Holmes faced their crisis at the end of November 2016, when wildfires tore through the forests of Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The blaze had begun in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and quickly spread due to strong winds that had been battering the area. And the speed of the spreading fire was frightening, with flames traveling as fast as 90 miles per hour.
Authorities investigating the fire, moreover, believe that it was “human caused.” However, the severity of the blaze was also spurred on by the region’s worst drought in almost ten years. And the resulting flames ripped through 15,000 acres of land, forcing around 14,000 people to flee their homes and businesses.
“This is the largest fire in the last hundred years of the state of Tennessee,” state Governor Bill Haslam announced during the height of the blaze. And, understandably, the historic fire had a devastating impact on the area, with 14 people losing their lives and 134 needing hospital care as a result. In addition, more than 700 buildings were destroyed and at least 2,000 residents left without power.
Fortunately, almost one week after the fire started, authorities said that the blaze was 42 percent contained. That was down in part to the work of 700 firefighters who had worked to control the flames, although the fire was eventually halted with the help of heavy rains. However, even after the danger had been averted, many people were still unable to return to their homes.
Among the thousands of people to be evacuated were the Holmes family. Dad Rob, his wife Amy, their 15-year-old daughter Andrea and baby boy Wyatt fled the flames to seek refuge in a nearby hotel. And it all happened so quickly that the family didn’t have time to save many of their belongings.
Recalling the panicked scenes, Rob told The Dodo, “All hell broke loose. The trees snapped and the power lines dangled over our driveway. We could not get the cars out, and the smoke was so bad our 18-month son Wyatt was having a hard time breathing.”
But luckily the family were able to make it out, just in the nick of time. “We barely made it out alive. It was a matter of seconds. We were jumping over fallen power lines that were zapping, sparks flying, flames getting closer and we could hardly see through the smoke,” Rob added to the Daily Mail. “We had our four dogs and jumped in a car with our neighbor and just drove for our lives.”
And it was lucky they left when they did, as during the morning after the Holmes’ escape they were delivered the devastating blow that their house had burned down to the ground. The news was made even harder to swallow given that they hadn’t had a chance to save one of their beloved pets: a pig named Charles.
“There was just no time to go back for Charles, and he is too heavy to have carried,” Rob explained to the Daily Mail after their ordeal. “My daughter was screaming ‘Dad, what about Charles?’ But there was a wall of fire coming over us like a giant tidal wave on either side. It was like driving through hell. I couldn’t turn back for Charles.”
It was only natural, then, that Andrea, who had owned Charles for three years, took the news of his potential death badly. “She was inconsolable. We all felt really bad that we had left Charles. He is one of the family,” Rob admitted to the newspaper.
And the day after the Holmes had fled, Rob returned to their home to survey the damage. All that was left, however, was a smoking pile of ashes. The damage to the property and the family’s belongings totaled around $275,000.
Even more heartbreaking, though, was the fact their Vietnamese pot-bellied pig Charles was nowhere to be seen. Then, somewhere from the scene of utter devastation, Rob heard a small “oink” in the distance. Following the noise, the father discovered the pig nestled in the mud.
Thankfully, the animal had managed to survive the searing flames by digging himself into the mud. And to Rob, his survival was a “miracle.” Indeed, it seems extraordinary that the beautiful beast managed to survive, especially considering the fact that the fire was so hot it had even melted the alloy wheels on nearby cars.
However, Charles wasn’t out of the woods just yet: he was severely dehydrated and suffering from the effects of smoke inhalation. As a result, Rob rushed the pig to the University of Tennessee Veterinary Hospital, where the vets discovered that Charles was also suffering from burned hooves.
Thankfully, in the following week Charles was treated for his burns and dehydration and made an excellent recovery. Meanwhile, to cover the expenses of his treatment, the Holmes family set Charles up with a crowdfunding page. And it seems as if this little piggy’s story had touched the hearts of many.
Within a matter of days, in fact, the page had vastly excelled its modest target of $500, as kind donators flocked to the site and raised over $4,225. Heather Middlebrooks, who had set up the crowdfunding page, said that she was “blown away” by people’s generosity.
Meanwhile, Rob himself was in full appreciation of Charles’ admirable survival efforts. “Charles is a warrior,” he said to the Daily Mail. “Out of all this destruction and chaos, Charles has brought some hope and happiness for people affected by the terrible fires.”
And the fact that Charles was able to overcome such extreme conditions to survive has helped the rest of the Holmes come to terms with losing their home and possessions. “We lost our home, which was insured, and about $50,000 to $75,000 worth of the contents which weren’t covered. But we still have each other and our animals: the things that are most important to us,” Rob added.
Perhaps, then, it’s fair to say that those agonizing moments when the family thought that Charles was dead put things into perspective. After all, although they had lost their home and most of their belongings, they had refused to be beaten. So while to many people, the things they lost seemed like everything, to the Holmes they still had everything – namely, each other.