Bruce McCamish often feels drawn to Sevier County – both by his camera, and his subject.

“To shoot it and see the process, and all the good things that are happening and humans loving each other, it really does help cleanse those bad thoughts and memories,” McCamish said.

A year later, though, those bad memories are still sharp. As wildfire tore out of the Great Smoky Mountains and into Gatlinburg in late November 2016, Bruce watched through his viewfinder.

“It felt like it was surreal, a real thing wasn’t going on,” he said. “And I had to pause so many times as I took images because I could not believe what was happening.”

McCamish shared some of the first images of the destruction, which were widely distributed on social media. In the weeks after the fires, he witnessed people flocking to help, photographed lost pets, and saw families in pain.

Once the smoke cleared, he kept coming back. A few weeks ago, he came to Chalet Village to shoot photos of new construction.

“It’s really encouraging to see it,” he said. “It’s encouraging to see Mother Nature and how she’s recovering in places.”

He feels compelled to capture these images because after seeing Sevier County at its darkest hour, he wants to focus on the light.

“This is hope personified,” he said, standing in front of the re-built Roaring Fork Baptist Church.

He said he hopes to share the feeling he feels behind the camera – peace.

“It puts you back in a sense of normalcy,” he said. “Just like the building comes out of the ground it does the same thing for the soul.”

Even while focused on the silver lining, it’s hard to forget the cloud of smoke. The images McCamish shot in the fire tower one year ago are burned in his memory.

“You can see the intensity of the flames,” he said.