Great Smoky Mountains wildfire destroys more than 100 structures

Posted at 4:08 PM, Nov 28, 2016

Fire crews on Tuesday morning battled dangerous fires that led to mandatory evacuations for Gatlinburg, Tennessee and other areas of the state. 

Residents and tourists in Gatlinburg, Tennessee were being evacuated Monday night after a wildfire in Great Smoky Mountains National Park moved toward the popular tourist town. More than 14,000 people have been evacuated, according to Nashville-based WTVF. 

Parts of nearby Pigeon Forge, Tennessee were also being evacuated.

Dean Flener with the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency said Monday night was “devastating” for the area.

So far, there have been no reports of any fatalities. A few injuries have been reported.

Flener said preliminary information indicates about 100 buildings from the Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort were destroyed. Black Bear Falls Resorts reportedly lost every cabin in the blaze.

So far there are no fatalities and one report of a burn injury, according to the agency.  

Officials at Dollywood said no flames have been reported within 100 feet of the property. The park remains evacuated.  

The fires have impacted 100 homes in Sevier County as of 2 a.m. local time, according to the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency. About 30 structures have been impacted in Gatlinburg, including a 16-story hotel.  The fires have left more than 12,000 people in Sevier County without power.

By Monday afternoon officials said the fire had reached an estimated 500 acres. Citing a news release from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported that average wind speeds in Gatlinburg were recorded at 40 mph and clocked in as high as 74 mph.

Gatlinburg received the first evacuation orders Monday night, followed by parts of Pigeon Forge a few hours later. Pigeon Forge Emergency Management released the following statement, according to a tweet by the National Weather Service:

WTVF reported that the National Guard was mobilized to Sevier County, where the fires have threatened homes, businesses and resorts.

Rain was expected to reach the area soon. Officials concerned with falling trees closed roads along the Tennessee-North Carolina border, according to the Charlotte Observer



Meanwhile, the fire also reached the edge of Dolly Parton's theme park, Dollywood, where officials evacuated cabins along with the park's newest addition, the DreamMore Resort.

The director of Sevier County's E-911 call center told the Knoxville News Sentinel the situation is "chaos."

Rain is expected to fall in the area over the next few days, expected to begin Monday night and continue into Wednesday, the Charlotte Observer said.

At around 10 p.m. EST Monday, the heavy smoke had filled downtown Gatlinburg in Sevier County, which attracts 12 million visitors per year. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the United States.

Photos from residents show a large fire alongside the busy Gatlinburg Parkway, which is a crowded roadway during peak tourist season. WTVF quoted Gatlinburg Fire Chief Greg Miller as urging the public to "pray" and stay off the highways.

According to WTVF, local schools were canceled Tuesday, while officials with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park issued an air quality advisory.

Meanwhile, a total of 18 wildfires were considered active in Western North Carolina on Monday, all mostly contained, the Charlotte Observer reported.

Investigators have said they believe fire is an arson, according to WATE television station.