Officials say 3 dead in Tennessee wildfires

wildfire

GATLINBURG, Tenn. – The Latest on wildfires burning across the South (all times local):

4:10 p.m.

A Tennessee mayor says three people have died in the wildfires that destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses near the Great Smoky Mountains.

Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters said Tuesday afternoon that he didn’t have any details on the deaths. The mayor says authorities are going door-to-door to make sure everyone is safe. About a dozen people have been injured.

Gatlinburg’s mayor says they firefighters are still battling hotspots and there will be a curfew in effect Tuesday night. More than 14,000 residents and tourists were forced to evacuate the tourist city in the mountains.

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1:45 p.m.

Aquarium officials in wildfire-threatened Gatlinburg, Tennessee, say they have a team of biologists inside the facility and that all of the 10,000 fish and other animals are safe.

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies made the announcement in a statement Tuesday, hours after workers had to flee the building when wildfires fueled by high winds spread across parts of eastern Tennessee. More than 14,000 people in the city were forced to leave and an entire resort was wiped out by the fire. A dozen people were injured but no deaths have been reported.

Aquarium officials say police escorted an “emergency team” back into the facility to check on the animals Tuesday.

The aquarium will remain closed until the evacuation orders are lifted. Officials say more than 2 million people visit the aquarium each year.

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12 p.m.

A county mayor in Tennessee says that an aquarium threatened by wildfires is intact and running on a generator.

At a news conference Tuesday, Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters said Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies was OK as of Tuesday morning. Workers there evacuated and have been worried about the more than 10,000 animals housed there.

Gatlinburg Fire Chief Greg Miller says 12 people have been injured in the wildfires in the Gatlinburg area, most with non-life-threatening injuries. He said they haven’t received any reports of missing people.

Miller said the fire spread Monday night by winds that at times exceeded 87 miles per hour.

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10:30 a.m.

Dollywood representatives say the theme park hasn’t been damaged by wildfires, but more than a dozen cabins operated by the park have been damaged or destroyed.

A news release says Dollywood made an assessment of the park early Tuesday morning. On Monday night, resort staff evacuated families staying in 50 rooms at Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and in 19 of Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Cabins.

The release notes that Dollywood has suspended park operations at least through Wednesday, but DreamMore will be open on a limited basis as a shelter and for registered guests.

Also on Tuesday, the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency reported that the Ober Gatlinburg amusement park and ski area is fine. The agency previously received reports that the facility was likely destroyed.

Preliminary surveys indicate that the fires have wiped out the more than 100 buildings of the Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort & Spa.

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9:15 a.m.

Tennessee officials say thousands of residents and visitors in the Gatlinburg area have been evacuated and hundreds of structures have been damaged and destroyed by spreading wildfires.

In a news release Tuesday morning, authorities say three people who suffered severe burns have been transferred from a Knoxville hospital to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, which has a burn unit. A fourth person is being treated for facial burns in Knoxville.

The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency says hundreds of firefighters as well as local and state personnel and National Guard troops have been sent in to help fight the blaze and check on people.

Officials say about 14,000 residents and visitors were evacuated from Gatlinburg alone.

According to the news release, preliminary surveys indicate that Westgate Resorts with more than 100 buildings and Ober Gatlinburg are both likely destroyed.

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8:35 a.m.

The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency says officials in the Gatlinburg area estimate that about 100 homes have been damaged or destroyed by flames from spreading wildfires.

Emergency officials in Tennessee ordered evacuations in downtown Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge and in other areas of Sevier County near the Smoky Mountains while crews continue to battle the blaze. Officials say the wildfire has set 30 structures ablaze in Gatlinburg, including a 16-story hotel. TEMA says no deaths have been reported, though one person was burned while evacuating.

Officials say there are about 1,200 people sheltering at the Gatlinburg Community Center and the Rocky Top Sports Park. Several other shelters have opened to house those forced from their homes.

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8:05 a.m.

The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency says National Guard troops are being sent in to help out as wildfires continue to spread in Gatlinburg and surrounding areas in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

TEMA spokesman Dean Flener says the troops will transport first responders, perform welfare checks and remove debris.

Emergency officials in Tennessee ordered evacuations due to the blaze in downtown Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge and in other areas of Sevier County. Officials say the wildfire has set 30 structures ablaze in Gatlinburg, including a 16-story hotel. TEMA says no deaths have been reported, though one person was burned while evacuating.

Officials say there are about 1,200 people sheltering at the Gatlinburg Community Center and the Rocky Top Sports Park.

Meanwhile, officials say about 12,000 people are without power and three school systems had canceled classes Tuesday.

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4 a.m.

As storms approach some of the largest wildfires burning in the South, the rain signaled new hope for firefighters working to put them out.

But authorities said the storms were also bringing high winds, which could topple the many dead trees and branches in burning forests and pose a threat to firefighters. And experts predicted rains from one storm system wouldn’t be enough to end the relentless drought that’s spread across several states.

The storms appeared to be taking aim at the two largest wildfires in the South – the nearly 28,000-acre Rough Ridge Fire in north Georgia and the nearly 25,000-acre Rock Mountain Fire burning on both sides of the Georgia-North Carolina line.

Authorities said 22 other large wildfires were burning throughout the Southeast U.S.

Sevier County and Gatlinburg officials have established a command center at Gatlinburg City Hall.

State Highway 441 heading into Gatlinburg is closed except for emergency traffic. It is only open to people leaving and evacuating the city.

Sevier, Green and Cocke County schools will all be closed on Tuesday due the wildfires.

TEMA says there are no reports of fatalities at this time. So far, one evacuee reportedly suffered burns. There is also a report of minor injuries due to a fire truck involved in an accident.

Agencies from around the state are aiding officials in Gatlinburg.

Tennessee Department of Health is coordinating to send medical units from surrounding counties to assist with any medical transports.

Tennessee’s Fire Mutual Aid system is coordinating the arrival of 50 to 60 fire engines from local departments around from as far north as Greenville and as far south as McMinn County.

The Tennessee Highway Patrol is deploying strike teams to assist with evacuations and traffic control.

The Tennessee Department of Transportation also has crews assisting with traffic control, while the Tennessee National Guard will be deploying personnel to Sevier County to assist with debris clearance and removal.

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