TENNESSEE – A Tennessee man who owns a store located in Gatlinburg is so naturally laid back that the first word that wildfires were near the community didn’t even unnerve him.
Mark Burger, who is 60, figured his cell phone would get an evacuation alert if the situation became dangerous, he said.
After some inquiries, officials have since said no evacuation alert was sent to mobile devices.
Tennessee’s month-long drought and wildfire emergency culminated Nov. 28 when hurricane-force winds sent unpredictable fires racing through the Gatlinburg area.
Back on Nov. 28, Burger was relaxing in his mountainside Gatlinburg condo with Tiger, his Siamese cat, for company. Burger’s son, whose name is Tanner, found Tiger as a kitten abandoned. Tanner rescued Tiger and then gave him to Burger as a gift.
And now, it seems, Tiger has repaid Burger for his life.
“I never did get the evacuation alert and Monday the fire seemed far enough away from downtown and the condos on hillsides nearby that I thought it was likely it would be contained before it threatened the city,” Burger explains.
He owns a gift shop which is called Peace Frogs downtown that sells T-shirts, jewelry, and other mementos. He was just confident enough that the fire was far away that he didn’t take away any merchandise for storage elsewhere. He didn’t have any kind of a go-bag packed in his condo, which is at the end of a winding road on a mountain ridge.
However, Tiger was able to sense that something was terribly wrong a bit after 8 p.m. The normally calm and peaceful cat stood staring at the curtained windows, then paced back and forth in front of the door. Tiger would run up to Burger and try desperately to attract his attention, then race back to the door.
“I figured I might as well take out the trash and take a look to see if an animal like a raccoon might be making Tiger nervous,” Burger stated. “When I got across the lot, I could see the flames all over the mountains across from my condo.”
Burger hurried indoors, grabbed some clean shirts, his heart medicine. and Tiger and jumped in the car. He then rushed down the mountain, wondering how fast the fire would move.
At least 14 people perished in the fire in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The National Park Service stated Sunday that an 81-year-old woman died as a result of a multiple vehicle accident while trying to flee the fire.
Officials are now estimating that 1,684 homes, businesses, and other structures were damaged or destroyed by the firestorm.
At least 134 people were treated for fire-related injuries.
Burger waited for about four hours in a long line of cars Friday to get into Gatlinburg, along with other residents and business owners. His condo and his store luckily all survived, intact. His insurance agent has a mobile unit in the town which is ready to make sure the store would be cleaned of any smoke smell.
“He’s a pretty great cat,” Burger stated.
And so, did he treat Tiger to a cat toy as a reward for being a furry fire alarm?
“No, he really doesn’t care about toys. He never gets bored because he’s so curious about everything around him.”