The beautiful Smoky Mountains surrounding the frequently visited tourist towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, TN are battling raging wildfires today.
High winds of up to 70 mph, along with extremely dry conditions, called the worst drought in nearly a decade, have exacerbated multiple fires since Monday. Starting in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, fires are now spreading rapidly into nearby communities. Authorities report that high winds have also knocked down power lines, causing new fires to ignite. The fires are a threat to homes and businesses across the area.
“Several homes and businesses in downtown Gatlinburg have been completely lost to fire and at least 30 other structures have been impacted,” according to a Tennessee Emergency Management Agency report from early Tuesday.
"Nobody is allowed into the city at this time. If you are currently in Gatlinburg and are able to evacuate ... evacuate immediately."
Evacuation orders for Gatlinburg and nearby areas have been issued by authorities, including the north end of Pigeon Forge, home to the popular theme park Dollywood. Park guests have been evacuated from its resort and cabins, as well as from other destinations such as Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. Staff of the Aquarium were forced to evacuate leaving the attraction’s 1,500 animals still inside. Ryan DeSear, Regional Manager for Ripley Entertainment says that “he’s hoping some of the staff will be allowed back into the facility Tuesday morning to assess the damage.” Reports show the building is still standing with power on.
Other vacation resorts have not been so fortunate. TEMA spokesman Dean Flener shared that, “three Gatlinburg-area resorts appear to have been destroyed.” Though reports are still conflicting at this time, it appears that Black Bear Falls Log Cabin Rental Resort, the Westgate Mountain Resort & Spa, and Ober Gatlinburg, the ski resort and amusement park that overlook the town, have potentially been affected.
USA Today reports, “Firefighters were hoping the 2-plus inches of rainfall forecast for Monday and Tuesday nights would bring an end to the ongoing wildfire emergency. But Monday’s high wind speeds exacerbated the situation, and the rain has yet to fall.”
"The wind is not helping, and the rain is not here yet," Gatlinburg Fire Department Chief Greg Miller said in a news conference. "These are the worst possible conditions imaginable."
According to TEMA’s website, “State Hwy. 441 heading into Gatlinburg is closed except for emergency traffic and the same highway leaving the city is open for evacuations.”
That National Guard has been activated to help fight the fire as well as to assist in the evacuations.
"If you're a person of prayer, we could use your prayers," says Gatlinburg Fire Chief Greg Miller on Monday evening as crews continued to fight the flames and high winds.
Please join us in praying for these communities today, for rain, for an end to the raging fires, for the safety and protection of all those who are still there, for the firefighters, and emergency workers. May God cover them in His care and give them strength.
Publication date: November 29, 2016