Wildfires in Gatlinburg displace more than 14,000 residents and tourists

Thousands forced to evacuate due to at least 14 wildfires that continue to sweep across the state.

On Monday, a wildfire burning in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park quickly spread into nearby communities and continued to grow, fanned by strong winds and uncharacteristically dry conditions.

Gatlinburg fire officials said winds reached up to 80 mph and continued at 30-40 mph for nearly 12 hours. Due to extreme drought in the southeast, the water-starved trees only allowed the fire to rage faster, barreling toward downtown Gatlinburg. Officials went on to call the wildfire “unprecedented.”

“Everything was like a perfect storm,”Cassius Cash, superintendent of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to WATE, a CNN affiliate, said.

As of 7:30 a.m., the fire destroyed 75-100 homes in the Cobbly Nob area of Gatlinburg, according to Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA). There have been no reports of fatalities due to the fire thus far. However, three victims of the fire have been transported to Vanderbilt Burn Center for treatment.

Approximately 13,000 people have lost power due to the fire according to TEMA reports coming out of Sevier County. Another 1,300 people are in various shelters throughout the area.

According to authorities, several homes and businesses in Gatlinburg were “completely lost to fire.” The exact ramifications of the inferno are difficult to quantify. A TEMA report cited at least 30 structures were impacted, including a 16-story hotel near the edge of Dollywood.

Dollywood has not suffered any major damages as of late Monday night. The crew was working to protect the area after workers and visitors had been evacuated. Ober Gatlinburg confirmed on Twitter Tuesday morning that its property is safe.

WTVF reported that the Tennessee National Guard mobilized to help with relief efforts. At least 100 Tennessee National Guard members have been dispatched since the fire began.

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies staff was forced to evacuate Monday night, leaving the 1,500 animals behind, according to Ripley Entertainment Regional Manager, Ryan DeSear. Cameras inside the aquarium have noted that the facility still has power, but employees are beginning to worry about air quality within the building.

TEMA worked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency Monday evening to secure a Fire Management Assistance Grant (FMAG) for the Chimney Top Mountain fire that led to the wildfire outbreak in Sevier County.

The FMAG process is initiated when the state submits a request to the Federal Emergency Management Regional Director and a “threat of a major disaster” exists. FMAG provides a 75 percent cost share, leaving the state to pay the remaining 25 percent of actual costs.

Tennessee’s Fire Mutual Aid system coordinated the arrival of 50 to 60 additional fire equipment from nearby areas as far north as Greenville, Tenn. and as far south as Hamilton County, Tenn.

Sacred Heart Cathedral is taking donations for firefighters at their Northshore location, 771 Northshore Dr., until 12 p.m. on Tuesday.

Sevier County residents can indicate their status with the American Red Cross at the organizations Safe and Well website.

Residents can also use Facebook’s Safety Check to indicate their status.

Regular updates can be found at WBIR.com and TEMA.

This story will be updated as information becomes available.

Featured Image by Skeeze, obtained through Creative Commons

Edited by Kaitlin Flippo

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