Interior architecture Grad’s family lost everything in the Gatlinburg fire

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Carrie Compton remembers the day the Gatlinburg wildfires broke out like it was yesterday.

“The wind was blowing hard that day and the sky was gray, even more than normal. There was a strange feeling in the air. I could smell it even from Knoxville.

Compton, now 40, was born and raised in Gatlinburg, and her family lost their home in the 2016 wildfires.

She will graduate this week from the College of Architecture and Design with a bachelor’s degree in interior design, completing a journey that has been one of beginnings and stops, tragedy and triumph.

Compton first came to UT in 2002, planning to major in psychology. She was taking classes and working in an acute care psychiatric facility.

“Working in the psychiatric facility was a real eye-opening experience for me, as it revealed to me that I no longer wanted to pursue psychology as a career path. The profession simply did not match my personality. “

She did, however, appreciate the time she spent working with art therapy patients and began to think she wanted to pursue a career in a creative field.

Carrie Compton works pottery.

Compton quit her job and left UT before graduating. She returned to Gatlinburg to figure out what she wanted to do next.

“I took some of my recent sketches and paintings to a local potter, Robert Alewine, and he graciously hired me. My unofficial title was sculptor or pottery maker, and that position involved making relief sculptures, drawings and drill work of mountain scenes on pots.

She eventually learned the art of pottery and ended up spending eight years as an instructor in Alewine’s pottery workshop.

In 2012, Compton returned to UT and completed the final four courses she needed to earn her bachelor’s degree in psychology. She graduated in December 2013 and enrolled the following fall to begin work on a bachelor’s degree in interior design.

Compton was in the middle of his interior design studies at the time of the Gatlinburg fires.

She learned of the fires when she logged on to Facebook and saw photos posted by family and friends still living in Gatlinburg.

“My cousin is actually a firefighter. Her image was the first I saw, but I just assumed she was plagued by this.

Since the fire did not appear to be close to her family home, she did not contact her parents until later that day.

“Around 5 p.m., I was able to reach my mother at home. They could see the fire from far in front of the house, coming from the west. They assumed they were safe because it was across Highway 71 and the river runs between the two roads,” she said.

Confident that her family was okay, Compton went to the movies with a friend.

“By the time I got out, I had missed over 20 phone calls,” she said. “I first spoke with my sister-in-law and found out they had to do an emergency evacuation and barely made it out alive. The road was blocked by a fallen tree and the fire was spreading rapidly from the east, behind the house.

“My mum didn’t have time to grab her purse and my sister couldn’t find her beloved cat before running out of the house,” she said. “They said driving down the mountain was like something out of a movie. Both sides of the mountain were on fire and they could feel the heat from inside the car.

“Everyone in my family made it out alive – by God’s grace – and we are forever grateful,” she said.

A drone of the Compton family at the site of their burned home. (photo by Jeremy Cowart)

Three days later, the family confirmed their home and everything inside was lost. Her sister-in-law’s cat had perished.

“It was pretty heartbreaking,” Compton said.

“As a child, I took my first steps in this house, as did my two brothers and sisters. There was a lifetime of memories accumulated within those walls.

“Once in a while I come across a blanket or something that still smells like my old mountain home and the tears well up,” she said. “I think it comes with the territory of design, especially for an architecture student. You can develop an attachment to buildings. I mourned my home and I still do from time to time.

These days, Compton tries not to dwell on what’s been lost but focuses on a bright future.

She met and married her husband, Siavash Amirrahmat, who is pursuing his doctorate in civil engineering at UT.

After graduation, she will move to Brentwood, Tennessee, to work for Davis Stokes Collaborative PC, a company that focuses on the design of healthcare facilities.

“My parents are fine. They have a new home,” she said. “And I have a wonderful, loving wife, a thriving design career, and a lifetime of wonderful memories.”

CONTACT:

Amy Blakely (865-974-5034, ablakely@utk.edu)

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