LITTLE RIVER, SC (WMBF) - One couple is back home safely after going on vacation in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The wildfires that spread across that area forced the couple to evacuate to a nearby shelter for two days.
Raymond and Carolyn Saldi are both in their 70s and have been married for more than 50 years. They say they've lived all over the world and seen it all, but say it's never too late to learn a life lesson. The couple says they were staying in a timeshare when the saw the fires coming towards them.
"I called down to the front desk early the next morning and said I smell smoke is there any problem? 'Oh no, it's two mountains away, it'll be fine,'" said Carolyn Saldi.
"It was probably a hundred yards away from us right there," said Raymond Saldi.
The couple was told to "get out now," and leave everything behind.
The Saldis drove to a nearby shelter, where they said thousands of locals joined them, many of whom had lost everything. They say the first night was so chaotic, they decided to sleep in the car.
"A lot of people stayed in their cars," Raymond Saldi said. "We stayed as warm as we could, you know, starting the car every once in a while."
The next night, they said they slept on cots inside the shelter, where the people banded together to form a community.
"We did feel like a family. We felt like we were taking up somebody else's space. We had a house to come home to. Why wait for suitcases? That was silly," said Carolyn Saldi.
The next day, the Saldis said they returned home with more than just souvenirs.
"I think even after great tragedies, there's always hope. You saw it in their eyes. Even though they were saying I have nothing, there was that hope there, and that gathering of the people around them to give them the strength, and I believe that's why we were put there," Carolyn Saldi said.