This morning, the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency provided members of the media with an update as to the ongoing fires that have devastated the community of Gatlinburg.
A Level III State of Emergency is in place due to the ongoing drought conditions and wildfire threats in Tennessee.
State emergency officials say thousands of residents and visitors were evacuated overnight in Sevier County and that hundreds of structures were either damaged or destroyed by the wildfires.
Presently, there are hundreds of firefighters, and local and state personnel, directly responding to the wildfire situation or coordinating to help those who are.
State agencies and local officials evacuated likely thousands of residents and visitors from Sevier County last night due to devastating wildfires in-and-around the cities of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. It is very likely 14,000+ residents and visitors evacuated from Gatlinburg alone.
At a peak, an estimated 1,300 people occupied six Red Cross or independently-operated shelters. The latest estimate is 1,100 people in four shelters. Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers (up to 52 at peak) have conducted door-to-door canvassing to assist with notifications and evacuations.
“The Chimney Top Fire, which began in the Great Smoky Mountains, spread very rapidly yesterday evening as high winds pushed flames onto private property. Even with the rain that is currently falling there, the fires continue to burn and structures remain engulfed with little hope that the rainfall will bring immediate relief,” stated an emergency official.
A temporary flight restriction is in place to prevent aircraft from complicating the response.
Three persons with severe burns were transferred form University of Tennessee’s Knoxville (UTK) hospital to Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville overnight. A fourth with burns to their face continues to be evaluated at UTK. Currently, there are no reports of fatalities.
Numerous roads remain closed and blocked by fallen trees and power lines. State Hwy. 441 heading into Gatlinburg is closed, except for emergency traffic. State Hwy. 441 leaving Gatlinburg is open to evacuating traffic.
Sevier County reports 11,595 people without power and schools in Green and Sevier County are closed today. Cocke County schools are running two hours late.
Showers and thunderstorms after 1 p.m., Eastern, today with winds 5 to 15 mph, and gusts to 20 mph. High near 69. Precipitation chance 80 percent.
Tonight, a chance of showers and thunderstorms, then showers likely and possibly a thunderstorm after 10 p.m., Eastern. Mostly cloudy with a low around 59. Breezy, with a south wind 5 to 10 mph increasing to 15 to 20 mph after midnight. Winds could gust as high as 35 mph. Chance of precipitation is 70 percent.
Rumors on Facebook had alleged that Ober Gatlinburg was destroyed in the wildfire last night; however, Ober Gatlinburg posted video this morning on its Facebook page, indicating all is well at the facility.
There were numerous reports that the employees at Ripley’s Aquarium were forced to abandon the facility, leaving behind 10,518 animals. As of this morning, there are no updates to provide as to the status of these animals.
TEMA is asking residents in Sevier County to stay off mobile devices unless it is for emergency calls to prevent taxing the mobile system.
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam stated, “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.”
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