Tennessee Wildfires Death Toll Rises as Severe Weather Erupts

The Tennessee wildfires death toll has officially claimed at least seven lives and is expected to rise after severe weather erupted overnight. East Tennessee has been battling an unprecedented outbreak of wildfires for weeks, blanketing the region in a haze of smoke. On Tuesday, a front moved over the area mixing warm and cold air along with heat from the wildfires and heavy winds: a recipe for disaster.

In addition to the hundreds of thousands of acres of land that have now been torched by the Tennessee wildfires, death toll numbers rose due to several tornadoes that tore through parts of the South. The total death toll from the storms is still unknown. Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and everything south along I-75 in Tennessee is in the line of a lethal combination of fire and rain. For locals, the scene appears terrifyingly apocalyptic.

Wildfire aftermath
[Image by Erik Schelzig/AP Images]

This devastating event begs the question, could the wildfires in Tennessee have somehow affected the weather patterns and contributed to a rising death toll and a perfect storm?

The first thing to remember when considering the Tennessee wildfires and weather is that heat rises. The mountains of Tennessee and surrounding states makes for a leisurely obstacle course for the fires. Wildfires typically move uphill. Flames can reach epic heights, and the heat from the existing fire dries out the underbrush of the forest above, prepping the land to burn with ease. If the wildfire burns at a high enough temperature, it can create its very own localized atmospheric disturbance. The updrafts that are generated by the hot air lower the surrounding atmospheric pressure, which draws air into the wildfires and fans the flames, perpetuating the cycle of destruction. Native foliage and wildlife are also victims of this horrific event.

In Tennessee, the wildfires death toll has had plenty of fuel to burn. Temperatures have been chilly in the area, and the land is parched. The area most affected by the wildfires is lacking almost 15 inches of rainfall for the year. The heat from hundreds of thousands of burning acres of forest could very well have kicked up enough heat to affect atmospheric pressure. Hot and cold do not mix peacefully in the realm of weather.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam stated that the wildfire are “the state’s biggest fire in 100 years.” Gatlinburg Fire Chief, Greg Miller, said that “this is a fire for the history books. The likes of this has never been seen here, but the worst is definitely over.”

Residents remain in the dark, literally and figuratively speaking. Thousands are now homeless, and the area is still left with the task of search and rescue. Families are still searching for missing members, and the wildfires still burn.

Wildfires burn
[Image by Erik Schelzig/AP Images]

Though heavy rainfall overnight did bring relief from the wildfire’s sudden expansion, the storms brought more pain to the state as the Tennessee wildfires death toll rose at the break of dawn. Mudslides and rockslides have further complicated the job of over 200 firefighters working to contain the devastation.

Talk of reopening the popular vacation spot, Gatlinburg, TN, is in the works. Gatlinburg Mayor Mike Werner stated, “You really can’t let everybody in yet because there are still areas that haven’t been searched, there are still areas where electric lines are down, power poles are down… Search and safety are basically our main goal.”

[Featured Image by Erik Schelzig/AP Images]