The worst-case scenario for the drought mixed with wildfires has occurred, as 50+ MPH high winds in the mountains have fueled a wildfire near the Chimney Tops trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and spread into Gatlinburg ahead of a high-precip system.
Now, the rain may not even be enough to quell the fires that erupted Monday, forcing the entire city of Gatlinburg and parts of Pigeon Forge to evacuate. As of now, officially, 30+ buildings are engulfed, but social media images show much more damage is occurring.
The ominous sign of danger occurred this afternoon as dark skies obscured the Sun in an otherwise clear sky. As the prevailing winds carried the embers from the Chimney Tops along the forest downwind, officials began preparing and evacuating residents from some of the remote areas in the woods. However, the fire jumped the Newfound Gap Road and raged into the southern end of Gatlinburg, threatening the Park Vista Hotel. The winds continued to roar and spread the fire throughout the park, threatening areas such as Ober Gatlinburg and the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. Power, telephone, and cell phone services are out in Gatlinburg.
With barely any rain falling in over a month, the ultra dry conditions fueled the wildfire and the wind spread the wildfire into Gatlinburg at sundown.
Live updates via Knoxville News-Sentinel
Emergency crews from around the region are responding to the wildfire with firefighting equipment, traffic and medical aid and shelter assistance.
As of now TEMA officials are requesting that evacuees not use their cell phones except in an emergency as the cellular networks are overburdened, due in part to several cellular towers offline.
2AM update from TEMA
It has been an extraordinary 10 days. As of now, 14 deaths have been reported, over 17,000 acres have burned, and 2 juveniles have been arrested in connection with the Chimney Tops 2 Fire that spread into Gatlinburg on November 28.
Gatlinburg and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park have been closed since the wildfire, and opening on a day-to-day basis for residents and business owners to assess damages to their structures and homes.
As of now, 2,460 structures are damaged or destroyed. The city of Gatlinburg has set up a web site to assist with relief efforts and for volunteers to offer their time.