More than 500 evacuate Smokies to escape wildfire

A view of wildfires burning in east Tennessee on Monday, Nov. 28, 2016. Hundreds of people have been forced to evacuate from their homes and at least 30 structure fires have been reported in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. (Courtesy: Janet Huskey Kelley)
A view of wildfires burning in east Tennessee on Monday, Nov. 28, 2016. Hundreds of people have been forced to evacuate from their homes and at least 30 structure fires have been reported in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. (Courtesy: Janet Huskey Kelley)

GATLINBURG, Tenn. (WKRN) – The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency says damage reports are widespread in Gatlinburg as crews continue to fight a wildfire outbreak in Sevier County.

Officials say it’s likely that 14,000 residents and visitors have been evacuated from Gatlinburg alone.

Officials say the Chimney Top Fire, which began in the Great Smoky Mountains, spread very rapidly Monday evening as high winds pushed flames onto private property.

PREVIOUS: Wildfires prompt mandatory evacuations in Gatlinburg; 30 building fires reported

Firefighters from throughout the state have been mobilized to Sevier County, specifically in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, to help fight the wildfire.

“The state is proving a coordinated response, including the National Guard, to help all those affected by the devastating wildfires burning in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and throughout the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. TEMA encourages residents in Sevier County to stay off mobile devices, unless it is an emergency, to prevent outage,” said a statement released by Gov. Bill Haslam on Tuesday.

PHOTOS: Wildfires burning in East Tennessee

TEMA is asking residents in Sevier County to stay off mobile devices unless it is for emergency calls to prevent taxing the mobile system.

DAMAGES

At least 100 homes in Sevier County, Tennessee, have been impacted, including 100 different structure fires in Gatlinburg. A 16-story hotel on Regan Drive also caught on fire and the Driftwood Apartments near the Park Vista Hotel were also fully engulfed.

A preliminary damage report states that Westgate Resorts is likely entirely gone and Black Bear Falls has likely lost every single cabin.

TEMA initially said Ober Gatlinburg was also reportedly destroyed entirely. The agency later issued a statement Tuesday saying, “A video posted on Ober Gatlinburg appears to show the facility is ok this morning. We received on-the-ground reports last night and early this morning indicating the facility was destroyed. We are relieved to know this important Tennessee destination is still there.”

Ober Gatlinburg, a popular tourist attraction confirmed via Twitter Tuesday morning that the property was ok.

State Highway 441 into downtown Gatlinburg is closed to everyone except emergency personnel. The highway is also open for people trying to evacuate.

Man roads remain blocked or closed due to fallen trees and power lines. Around 11,600 people are said to be without power.

INJURIES

Three people with severe burns were transferred from University of Tennessee’s Knoxville hospital to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville overnight. A fourth victim with burns to their face continues to be evaluated at UTK.

Currently, there are no reports of fatalities.

Sevier County residents can indicate their status with the American Red Cross at the organization’s Safe and Well website. Anyone can check the website to see if their loved ones have checked in.

EVACUATIONS

Around 14,000 residents and visitors have been evacuated from Gatlinburg alone.

Tennessee Highway Patrol posted images on Twitter of troopers walking into areas of Gatlinburg that were surrounded by fire to remove those who were trapped by flames.

Over 1,000 people took shelter at the Gatlinburg Community Center and at the Rocky Top Sports Park. There are also different animal shelters that are watching evacuees’ pets while families stay in the shelters.

SCHOOL CLOSINGS

Sevier, McMinn and Greene counties have closed schools for the day Tuesday and Cocke County schools will run two hours late.

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