Community Comes Together for Brave Firefighters in Hayesville


HAYESVILLE, NC, NOVEMBER 13, 2016 – On November 6th, several crews of firefighters arrived in Hayesville to face the flames threatening homes and surrounding areas. The Forest Service arranged for crews to stay at Hinton Center, a Christian retreat and conference center in town. During this time of year, Hinton typically houses a few mission teams, retreat groups, and wedding parties. So, when the small staff realized the large number of brave men and women that would stay with them over the next few weeks, they immediately turned to volunteers for help.


Monday morning, CEO Jacqueline Gottlieb reached out to community groups and media asking for volunteers. The center needed about four per day, and hoped that they could get close to that number for the next two weeks that the firefighters were scheduled to stay.


Over the course of the following 48 hours, over 200 people contacted the staff at Hinton Center. Individuals, community groups, churches, and even retired firefighters extended willing hands and giving hearts in order to make the firefighters’ stay as smooth and enjoyable as possible. Hinton Center is being compensated for the firefighters’ meals and lodging, but the community more than anticipated that needs may go beyond that.

Donations of everything from water bottles to lip balm to eye drops have poured through Hinton’s doors over the past week. These items go into a “hospitality lounge” set up for the firefighters, where they can pick up these generous amenities as they need. This lounge has grown into the size of a small convenience store as groups and individuals have come together to bring countless loads of items. The generosity of this area is unreal.

Hinton isn’t the only entity overwhelmed by the community’s giving spirit. Firefighters from all over the United States have spoken out in awe time and time again since their arrival. So many have remarked that the selflessness of volunteers and overflowing donations in this area are unlike anything they’ve ever seen in their line of work.


Hinton has received an overwhelming amount of donations of snacks and amenities, and asks that those wishing to donate these hospitality items either do so to a local charity, the Wildland Firefighter Foundation, or even write thank-you notes to their courageous guests. As to those gracious enough wanting to volunteer, Hinton asks the same. Though all the current volunteer spots are full, thank-you notes for firefighters’ rooms and lunches send a message of motivation and hope.


The fires bring a unique tragedy to Clay and surrounding counties. Many lifetime residents haven’t witnessed such a fire emergency. More reports of backyard fires and emergency evacuations come in every day. But in this trying time, the community has proved its strength, hospitality, and altruistic nature without end.


Thoughts on the Fires and Our Awe-Inspiring Community


By Jacqueline Gottlieb, CEO


First time I’ve had down time in over a week. I haven’t even unpacked from Leadership NC yet.


A couple of weeks ago, Callie D Moore commented to me that she understood firefighters that were battling the forest fires needed housing. I reached out to the forest service and was told that they’d pass it along. A few days past, and we heard nothing. I packed and left for my business trip to Raleigh.

Before returning home, I was notified that we were working with the Forest Service as a potential lodging site. On the way home, I was overwhelmed by the growth of the fire. It was not only growing; it was coming closer to Hayesville. I witnessed flames in the tree line not far from the road.


Before the weekend was over at Hinton, we were wrapping up a retreat, a wedding, and welcoming fire fighters. With our small staff, we engaged the community in search of volunteers.
We’ve had over 200 offering their time and talents. Hayesville only has 310 people last I checked and Clay County around 10,000.
Donations of snacks, waters, and toiletries were delivered. The generosity continues to be overwhelming.
As we drive through our community, smoke fills the air and the breath-taking view of Lake Chatuge is hazy.
The fire fighters and Forestry Personnel rave about the people of this community. Some mention the generosity of the restaurant owners, and others talk about neighbors offering pastures to relocate livestock.We invited our guests to use our chapel. We’ve prayed with fire fighters before they head out to fight the fire in our minds knowing what dangers they face.
It’s all surreal. What does it all mean? Over 5,000 acres of our beloved forest land burning in our community with 18 other fires within a short drive. The thoughts of arsonists setting more fires infuriates each of us. Evacuations of our friends.
The potential of destruction and loss of life. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring – only time will tell.
So, we will continue to walk in faith with hope that everything will be okay. As we are the hands and feet of Christ, we will continue to provide the radical hospitality to our guests that is well know at the Hinton Center.
It is an honor and blessing to live and work in this community.