GATLINBURG, Tenn. – Gatlinburg is in need of prayers.
According to The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA), state agencies and local officials evacuated likely thousands residents and visitors from Sevier County last night due to devastating wildfires in-and-around the cities of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.
The Chimney Top Fire, which began in the Great Smoky Mountains, spread very rapidly yesterday evening as high winds pushed flames onto private property. Sevier County officials currently estimate about 100 homes impacted in the county with 10 homes impacted in Gatlinburg from the fire, TEMA said.
A total of 1,200 people have sheltered at the Gatlinburg Community Center and at the Rocky Top Sports Park. Approximately 30 structures have been impacted in Gatlinburg, including a 16-story hotel on Regan Drive and the Driftwood Apartments reported fully-involved near the Park Vista Hotel, according to TEMA.
The American Red Cross is providing temporary shelter, food and clothing for those affected. Ways to aid in disaster relief can be found by visiting redcross.org/donate. To make a $10 donation by text, text the word REDCROSS to 90999. To volunteer, particularly after the evacuation and during the wildfire recovery, visit http://www.redcross.org/volunteer/become-a-volunteer#step1. The fires come on the heels of Giving Tuesday, a worldwide day of giving in celebration of philanthropy and generosity.
Sevier County reports 12,509 people without power and there are no reports of fatalities. Three persons with severe burns were transferred form University of Tennessee’s Knoxville (UTK) hospital to Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville overnight. A fourth with burns to their face continues to be evaluated at UTK. Currently, there are no reports of fatalities. Fire crews are still battling blazes in Sevier County as a heavy layer of smoke settles in many areas of the county, TEMA said.
According to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) Public Affairs Office, severe wind gusts of over 80 mph, unprecedented low relative humidity, and extended drought conditions caused the fire burning in the National Park to spread rapidly and unpredictably, in spite of suppression efforts on Sunday that included helicopter water drops. Wind gusts carried burning embers long distances causing new spot fires to ignite across the north-central area of the park and into Gatlinburg. In addition, high winds caused numerous trees to fall throughout the evening on Monday bringing down power lines across the area that ignited additional new fires that spread rapidly due to sustained winds of over 40 mph, according to GSMNP.
Gatlinburg City officials have reported numerous structures completely lost to fire including businesses in the downtown area and private homes throughout the area. Great Smoky Mountains National Park covers 522,427 acres, divided almost evenly between the states of North Carolina and Tennessee. About 12 million people visit the area annually, with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park being the most visited in the country.
Conditions remain extremely dangerous with trees expected to continue to fall. Officials are asking that motorists stay off the roadways throughout the area. Travel in the Gatlinburg area is limited to emergency traffic only. The National Park is closed at the Gatlinburg entrance.
Officials have received tremendous support throughout the region included state resources and the deployment of the National Guard by Governor Haslam. At this time, officials do not have information to release regarding the current size of the fire, the number of structures burned, or injuries.
State Hwy. 441 heading into Gatlinburg is closed, except for emergency traffic. State Hwy. 441 leaving Gatlinburg is open to evacuating traffic.
For additional updates, visit www.nps.gov/grsm/learn/news/fire-update-11-29-4am.htm or http://www.tnema.org/
Donations are being accepted at the Pigeon Forge Fire Hall Station 1 at 3229 Rena Street Pigeon Forge Tennesee 37863