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Wildfires Claim ‘Hundreds of Structures’

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

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Raging wildfires have damaged or destroyed hundreds of buildings in Tennessee and forced more than 14,000 people out of the resort city of Gatlinburg, which sits at the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, according to reports.

As light rainfall moved into the area Tuesday morning (Nov. 29), more than a dozen buildings in Gatlinburg remained engulfed in flames, including a 16-story hotel and apartment complex, according to emergency officials. 

NPS photo
National Park Service via Twitter

The main fire—which exploded from 10 acres Sunday night into a sweeping 500-acre blaze—appeared to be "human caused," NBC reported, citing National Park officials.

“The center of Gatlinburg looks good for now,” Newmansville Volunteer Fire Department Lt. Bobby Balding told USA Today reporters. “It's the apocalypse on both sides (of downtown).”

Officials don’t expect the rain to bring relief anytime soon. Wind gusts of up to 80 mph caused problems for fire crews battling the flames, NBC News reported.

As of Tuesday, no fatalities had been reported, but at least three people with severe burns were transferred from the University of Tennessee’s Knoxville hospital to the Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville over Monday night, according to The Washington Post. Despite mandatory evacuation orders, firefighters have told reporters that they fear some residents might be trapped.

Dangerous Evacuations

"Fire was coming over the mountains, and the smoke was so bad we could barely breathe as we were trying to pack up," Mike Gill, who evacuated with his wife, Betty, told NBC News.

Videos and images posted on social media outlets show motorists fleeing the dangerous area, surrounded by heavy smoke, bright orange flames as well as ash raining down. One video showed the scene inside a hotel with fire raging outside large windows.

Many of the evacuees have gone to shelters in nearby Pigeon Forge; however, some areas in that resort town have also been evacuated.

Officials with the area’s largest theme park, Dollywood, which sits about 1 mile from Pigeon Forge, said they were watching the spreading fires closely.

In a statement issued Monday night, officials said the park had not sustained any damage, but it had evacuated families staying in 50 rooms at Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and those families staying in 19 cabins at Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Cabins.

Widespread Damage

Preliminary surveys of Sevier County, TN, suggest widespread property damage. The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency indicates that “hundreds of structures are lost.”

“Westgate Resorts is likely entirely gone (more than 100 buildings) [and] Black Bear Falls has likely lost every single cabin,” TEMA said.

Officials estimate that about 100 homes in Gatlinburg were damaged or destroyed by the blaze.

The active fires began inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where “extreme weather conditions,” including extended drought, low-relative humidity and strong wind gusts, quickly fueled the spread of fires, park officials said.

The main fire—which exploded from 10 acres Sunday night into a 500-acre blaze—appeared to be "human caused," NBC reported, citing park officials.

“Conditions remain extremely dangerous with trees expected to continue to fall,” officials at the park wrote Tuesday morning on Facebook. “Officials are asking that motorists stay off the roadways throughout the area. Travel in the Gatlinburg area is limited to emergency traffic only.”

   

Tagged categories: Building owners; Commercial Buildings; Fire; Health and safety; National Park Service

Comment from Jesse Melton, (11/30/2016, 8:02 AM)

I grew up just south of there, it's sad to see so much being destroyed. Hopefully human casualties remain low. On the positive side, everything built there in the last 30 years or so was atrocious, and so over the top it approached being inside a cartoon. Sort of like a beach town with no beach and no scantily clad women strolling about. This was all inevitable though. It was clear a catastrophe was imminent when some bright spark decided to park a replica Titanic in a mountain town in a landlocked State. If we were in Ancient Greece this would be considered the wrath of the gods angered by the idiocy of Man.


Comment from Jesse Melton, (11/30/2016, 8:19 AM)

I'm of the firm belief anyone going to the GSMNP for a camping trip should not be allowed to leave their cars. At the minimum they should have to go through security to ensure they had no food, backpacks or tools to start a fire with. People who wait in line to hike aren't to be trusted with fire. Prohibiting them from having food is simply a safety measure for the bears. The same people who set the woods on fire are the same people that get bears killed. It's not fair to the bears. Please keep in mind the Park had erected anti-bear enclosures around the shelters along multi day trails to help people sleep free of bear scare. Then they had to remove the enclosures because people were using them like shark cages and feeding the bears through the fences. The only bears at risk from the fire are the ones they've got caged up for photo opportunities.


Comment from M. Halliwell, (12/1/2016, 10:58 AM)

Up here, we keep getting the spin that it's like the Fort McMurray wildfire this summer. Uh...no. 14,000 people evacuated from a resort with multiple roads in and out is not the same as 88,000 people with only one highway (north to industrial sites and a dead end to the road or 5 hours south to the next city). Although I appreciate the fear in Gatlinburg, it's not the same.


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