1,200 guests escaped burning Gatlinburg resort in 15 minutes - WSMV News 4

1,200 guests escaped burning Gatlinburg resort in 15 minutes

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Video taken by Aaron Gholston shows the Westgate resort burning. (Source: WBIR) Video taken by Aaron Gholston shows the Westgate resort burning. (Source: WBIR)
PIGEON FORGE, TN (WSMV) -

Hundreds of businesses and homes were destroyed in the deadly wildfires that devastated Sevier County earlier this week.

One of the businesses dealing with major losses is the Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort & Spa.

Mark Waltrip, chief operating officer of Westgate Resorts, said they lost 74 of their 100 buildings in Gatlinburg.

On the night of the wildfires, 1,200 guests were staying at the resort.

Waltrip said the fire spread so quickly that their security team, backed up by the Gatlinburg Fire Department, only had 15 minutes to get everyone out.

"We had literally 15 minutes' notice and our team evacuated 1,200 people off the top of that mountain, and not a minute too soon," Waltrip said. "Thank God our team members moved quickly."

One guest was trapped inside an elevator in one of the buildings that burned down. Waltrip praised the Gatlinburg Fire Department for their quick response.

"Those people would not be alive today if it wasn't for the city of Gatlinburg," he said.

Of the resort's 1,100 team members, 20 have lost their homes.

"We've got to take care of them, get them back into a home and get our folks back to work," Waltrip said.

Channel 4 ran into Waltrip by chance on Wednesday morning when he offered the news team some coffee.

"We're a little shook, but we're in the service industry, and this is what we do. We take care of other people," he said.

Fifty of the guests who were evacuated are staying at shelters in the area.

"It was a very emotional thing for our team members, and our guests picked up on it, and that's the one thing that makes us feel good in our industry, when our team members step up and do the right thing," Waltrip said.

The company's other two properties in the area, including the Wild Bear Inn in Pigeon Forge, were not damaged.

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