Flames tore through the Great Smoky Mountains, killing at least three people, scorching hundreds of homes and businesses and sending more than 14,000 fleeing from the resort towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.
Tourists and residents scrambled Monday night and early Tuesday to outrun the blaze, which was pushed from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park into the towns by wind gusts of almost 90 mph. Drivers navigating narrow mountain roads shot video footage showing flames swooping in from the shoulders of the roadway at the height of the evacuation.
Wildfires have ravaged the Southeast throughout the month, and the acrid haze of smoke has settled in across the region. But emergency responders seemed blindsided by the intensity of the wind-whipped flames Monday night.
A Gatlinburg fire official said more than 20 fire calls came within 15 minutes at the peak of the chaos.
As day broke Tuesday, the extent of the damage came into grim focus. Buildings were reduced to charred shells, and many beloved tourist destinations reported heavy damage or complete destruction. The devastation grabbed the attention of millions of people across the globe who have memories of vacations spent in the mountains of the country’s most visited national park.
The center of Gatlinburg’s tourist district escaped heavy damage, but “it’s the apocalypse” on either side, said Newmansville Volunteer Fire Department Lt. Bobby Balding.
Although rooms at the Dollywood theme park and resort were evacuated as a precaution, Dolly Parton said Tuesday that the area had been spared.
At shelters, hundreds of survivors wondered how much they had lost.
Shari Deason and her boyfriend scooped up their 14-month-old son, William, when the evacuation order came, but they left everything else behind at the Bedrock Motel — even William’s diapers.
“I don’t know if we’ve got a room to go back to,” Deason said. “I don’t know if we’ve got anything to go back to.”
SOURCE: Adam Tamburin
The (Nashville) Tennessean