Gatlinburg, Tennessee, is on fire today. Vacation site to millions yearly, the resort town is currently falling victim to wildfires that have spun out of control. Thousands of residents and tourist have been forced to leave. Several shelters have been organized for victims fleeing the fires, and there is no respite in sight.
Troopers walked into areas of Gatlinburg, Tn that were surrounded by fire to remove those who were trapped by flames. pic.twitter.com/9r2lkAVy19
— TN Highway Patrol (@TNHighwayPatrol) November 29, 2016
Gatlinburg Fire Chief Greg Miller reported during a press conference today that the fires have already demolished over 100 buildings. Residents and tourists were left to fend for their lives as warning systems failed to notify many sections of the surrounding mountain resorts of the fire’s rapid expansion. Gatlinburg’s treasured Ripley’s Aquarium has also been endangered by the flames.
“Thankfully, Sevier County Mayor, Larry Waters reported that “The Aquarium, as far as we looked at this morning, was intact… understand that they had a generator, so they were able to do what they needed to do to protect the animals.”
The local weather forecast does not look hopeful either. There is no adequate rainfall in the foreseeable future. Due to the extensive drought, the region would need to see quite a significant amount of rainfall to overcome the 13- to 15-inch deficit for the year. Intermittent thunderstorms have been less than accommodating. In fact, they are likely to blame for the unforeseen rapid advancement of the Gatlinburg fires.
Though the expectation of rainfall yesterday seemed relieving to locals at first, Monday’s storms only brought more hardship for the area. High winds plagued the fire grounds in Gatlinburg, providing more trouble than relief. Thousands of acres in The Great Smokey Mountains are engulfed in the fires of Gatlinburg, TN. Wind speeds of over 87 mph were reported by the Gatlinburg fire chief in last night’s storms. High-speed winds toppled burning trees, scattering fiery embers to new grounds. The winds also tore down power lines and gusted the hottest part of the fires with a swift breeze to light the proverbial kindling that is now Gatlinburg. There is no way to know exactly how many thousands of acres of precious land, trees, and wildlife have been destroyed.
— CNN (@CNN) November 29, 2016
The whole of Gatlinburg and nearby Pigeon Forge have been evacuated, and thousands of residents have been displaced. A 16-story resort hotel threatened occupants when the fires surrounded the building. TEMA stated in a news release that the building “is likely entirely gone.” The area of Pigeon Forge harboring the family fun spot Dollywood has been evacuated. Park operations have ceased, and the surrounding areas look like a scene from a horror flick.
Dolly Parton, who owns Dollywood, has spoken out concerning the crisis, saying that she is “heartbroken.” Just hours before the fire greatly expanded, a commercial starring Parton and Smokey the Bear urged residents to abstain from burning leaves or any other material for the time being due to the volatile drought circumstances. The irony is bewildering.
The Army National Guard has sent troops to assist the numerous firefighters already hard at work in the area. It is safe to assume that Gatlinburg will never be the same. For now, emergency workers from all around the area are exerting their best efforts to contain and distinguish the fire. It must be noted that this cherished location will need tremendous support, especially once the fires have all been conquered.
[Featured Image by Erik Schelzig/AP Images]