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Wildfires force tourists, residents to seek shelter

Posted: 3:55 AM, Nov 29, 2016
Updated: 2016-11-29 12:46:38-05

11:30 a.m. Central update: 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. — Associated Press

Earlier story:
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.

Parts of Gatlinburg, Tennessee have been destroyed as a result of wildfires raging through the Smoky Mountains, officials have confirmed.

Dean Flener with the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency said Monday night was “devastating” for the area.

So far, there have been no reports of any fatalities.

However, three people with severe burns were transported to Vanderbilt University Medical Center from the University of Tennessee's Knoxville Hospital overnight. A fourth person with burns to his or her face was evaluated at UTK hospital. 

More than a hundred structures, including several homes, have either been damaged or destroyed.

Flener said preliminary information indicates that Ober Gatlinburg was destroyed, along with about 100 buildings from the Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort. Black Bear Falls Resorts reportedly lost every cabin in the blaze.

However, Ober Gatlinburg said via social media that the property was not affected. 

TEMA officials later said they received on the ground reports Monday night and Tuesday morning that the resort had been destroyed. 

"We are relieved to know this important Tennessee destination is still there," the agency said in a release.

Officials at Dollywood said no flames have been reported within 100 feet of the property. The park remains evacuated. 

Thousands of people, including about 14,000 from Gatlinburg, have fled the area.

The mandatory evacuation was issued for downtown Gatlinburg and included Mynatt Park, Park Vista and Ski Mountain in Gatlinburg, and the south part of Pigeon Forge, close to Sevierville.

Governor Haslam released the following statement: "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."

Monday night’s rainfall has helped conditions considerably, but Flener said crews would be out fighting the blaze until the area gets a heavy, soaking rain. A Level III State of Emergency remains in effect.

A temporary flight restriction has been implemented to prevent aircraft from complicating the response.

Numerous roads were closed and blocked by fallen trees and power lines.

State Highway 441 heading into Gatlinburg has been closed, except to emergency traffic. State Highway 441 leaving Gatlinburg remained open for evacuating traffic.

Sevier County residents can indicate their status with the American Red Cross at the organizations Safe and Well website . Residents can also use Facebook’s Safety Check to indicate their status.