Families of Gatlinburg wildfire victims willing to forgive


GATLINBURG (WATE) – As new haunting and heartbreaking imagines of November 28 continue to be released, the message of forgiveness from wildfire survivors continues.

News broke last week that the charges against the two boys believed to have started the Chimney Tops 2 fire have been dropped.

More: Charges dropped against juveniles in Gatlinburg wildfires

A Gatlinburg man who lost everything that night, including his mother, is offering grace instead of anger.

“Home is where your heart is, and my heart is in the mountains here,” said James Wood.

His new home is almost ready to move in.

“I don’t even have the keys yet. Got to sign the mortgage first,” he said.

Wood ‘s mother Alice Hagler didn’t survive the wildfire.

“I know that she would be very proud that we’ve been able to pick up and move on and do what she expected us to do,” said Wood.

Related coverage: Family: Missing mother found dead after Gatlinburg wildfires

Wood says it hasn’t been easy.

“I have memories and that can’t be taken away,” he said.

The Wood family is taking away blame, saying they weren’t shocked when the news broke about the state’s case against the juveniles.

“As far as my feelings for the boys, I forgave them. If I saw them right now, I’d put my arms around them, give them a hug and tell them I love them and say I hoped they learned something and it’s time to move on,” said Wood.

The family believes the justice system will take care of everything and they’re at peace with whatever may happen.

“It’s not going to bring my mother back. It’s not going to bring my house back and it’s not going to rebuild all the homes and lives that were lost,” said Wood.

They’re relying on faith as Thursday marks one year since Wood and his mom moved to East Tennessee.

“Over the years this has always been my heaven. So, until I get there this is as close as I’m going to get. This is actually peaceful for me.”

The family also has a message for anyone in Sevier County who may be struggling.

“Have patience, have faith and all things will work out in time,” said Wood.

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