Gatlinburg, Tennessee Fires are still raging in nearby forests, too close to ensure safety, even within the burned out tourist town of Gatlinburg and neighboring Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Most of Gatlinburg is reduced to smoldering ashes. On Thursday, rescuers assessed the damage, trying to piece together just how many people were missing, and how they might be found.
Dolly Parton’s Dollywood theme park is in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, but was miraculously spared by the flames. Dolly and her neighbors prayed for rain, which came about 24 hours after fire descended upon Gatlinburg, Tennessee on Monday evening. The rain was greatly needed after over a month of drought for most of the Southeastern region.
Rain fell on Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, Tennessee fires, in Sevier County, and also upon many thirsty lands in the region, Though the rain quelled the flames, to an extent, fires continued to smolder and reignite, and storms resulted in flash flood warnings, tornados, and wind damage throughout several states.
Gatlinburg, Tennessee Fire Chief Greg Miller is quoted in the Los Angeles Times.
“The rain may help to prevent some of the further brush fires. But unless that rain penetrates deep enough into that leaf clutter, then those hot spots can still arise.”
Dolly Parton’s birthplace, Sevier county, with its beautiful tourist towns of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, Tennessee, has been virtually gutted already by fire and flames that even now persist in some wooded areas. Despite the rain and the best efforts of about 200 firefighters, all the fires are not out, according to the Washington Post. Sevier County lost 700 buildings and homes, including 300 buildings in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. At least one hundred people are missing after the evacuation of over 14,000 residents and tourists.
Gatlinburg, Tennessee was rapidly engulfed in flames according to Gatlinburg Mayor Mike Werner. The mayor, who has been concentrating on caring for residents in shelters since the fire, lost his home as well. The condominium business he managed was also destroyed by the fire according to the Washington Post.
“You know, it happened so fast, it was staggering. When you’ve got winds of up to 87 mph pushing fire, people were basically running for their lives.”
Most Gatlinburg, Tennessee residents are in the same position as their mayor, with their homes, their churches, and their workplaces destroyed. It has been determined according to CNN that the fire, which started last week 10 miles from Gatlinburg and spread rapidly on Sunday, had a human cause, though officials would not comment further. Downed power lines also contributed to the fire.
Like Dolly Parton’s Dollywood theme park, the center of Gatlinburg’s downtown area, near the Ripley’s Aquarium survived the fire. Scattered buildings throughout the area seem to have made it through the fire, but overall the destruction is overwhelming to see, especially to those who loved Gatlinburg and surrounding Sevier County.
Gatlinburg, Tennessee resident Trevor Cates, a 37-year-old native who has lost his home, was very upset to see the ruins of Banner Baptist Church which he attended. Trevor spoke with CNN, explaining how quickly he and his wife had to evacuate. Some had even less time.
“We had practically no warning. My wife and son ran through the home and grabbed a laundry basket full of pictures, our fire safe, my two Bibles, some changes of clothes, and our two cats and one dog.”
The Gatlinburg, Tennessee fire, which devoured much of Sevier County was deadly and terrifying. Eleven people are confirmed dead and at least 74 injured. It is feared that there could be even more victims. More remote areas in Sevier County have not yet been searched since they have been inaccessible. Gatlinburg Fire Chief Greg Miller is quoted by CNN explaining the chances of finding survivors decreases with each passing hour, and yet there is so much area to cover.
“‘I’ll always cling to hope that there’s a chance for rescue, but now that we’re at hour 65… we have to come to a realization’ that the chances of finding people alive and perhaps trapped near the fire zone are dimming.”
Gatlinburg, Tennessee took the brunt of the fire, but Pigeon Forge was also heavily damaged, and thousands of acres of beautiful woodlands lay in ashes. Hundreds of thousands of mountain woodlands throughout the southeast have been destroyed this fall in wildfires caused by the intense droughts.
Dolly Parton has pledged to give $1,000 a month, to each of the burned out residents through her Dollywood Foundation. Ms. Parton is collecting donations to provide more aid to the now homeless mountaineers of devastated Sevier County in her native Tennessee mountains. It is easy to donate to Dolly Parton’s “My People Fund.”
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Gatlinburg, Tennessee and Pigeon Forge are located near the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, in Sevier County. Sevier County is home to about 95,000 residents and host to over 11 million tourists each season. There are 37,131 housesholds in Seiver County, according to The East Tennessee Economic Development Agency.
Country music star Dolly Parton is a major philanthropist for Sevier County, where she was born and has helped the tourist towns of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, Tennessee grow to amazing proportions. Gatlinburg will be rebuilt vowed Mayor Mike Werner.
“We’re going to be strong. We’re going to be back better than ever.”
Gatlinburg, Tennessee and Pigeon Forge in Sevier County will rebuild, but they need help from Dolly Parton, the Dollywood Foundation, and other donations.by Brian Blanco Getty
[Featured Image by Brian Blanco/Getty Images]