Westgate Resort demolished by fire; COO putting 1.1K employees first

(Courtsey: Gov. Bill Haslam via WATE)
(Courtsey: Gov. Bill Haslam via WATE)

GATLINBURG, Tenn. (WKRN) – Welcome to the Wild Bear Inn, part of the tourism industry that is the backbone of the Gatlinburg area.

The owners of the inn also own another inn—the largest resort in Tennessee that nearly burned to the ground in the wildfire.

Now, management of the Westgate Resort is formulating a plan to help out hundreds of local employees.

Mark Waltrop, COO of Westgate Resort (Photo: WKRN)
Mark Waltrip, COO of Westgate Resort (Photo: WKRN)

“We have 1,100 team members in this community, so we want to make sure No. 1 that they were taken care of,” said COO Mark Waltrip.

All of those employees are uncertain what the future might hold after the resort was completely ruined by the storm of fire.

“We got the call the other night that the resort was on fire,” said Waltrip. “That night we had about 1,200 people still on the property.”

PHOTOS: Wildfire in East Tennessee

Employees and guests worked together to brave the fire.

“We had cars lighting on fire, our team members drove through the fire to the top of that mountain with buses to extract guests and bring them out,” Waltrip explained.

(Courtsey: Gov. Bill Haslam via WATE)
(Courtsey: Gov. Bill Haslam via WATE)

Little remains of Westgate. Two thirds of the resort are in ruins.

“We have our foundation team up here. I bought a stack of Walmart gift cards and a stack of checks. We’re gonna keep them all employed through Christmas,” said Waltrip.

Many of the employees will stay with the resort while many more may move to the other Westgate properties across the country.

And still, many others will pick up a hammer and a nail to help bring Gatlinburg back to what it was.

“We have a very big construction project starting on Monday. We’re going to rebuild everything,” Waltrip told News 2.

Click here for continuing coverage of the Sevier County wildfire.