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GATLINBURG (WSPA) – Thousands of people have been evacuated as homes and buildings continue to burn despite rain falling in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.
The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) reported hundreds of structures have been damaged by the fires in Sevier County as of 9 a.m. Tuesday.
More than 100 buildings and 70 homes have been destroyed in Sevier County, officials said.
Ten square miles of the city of Gatlinburg has burned while officials say more than 2,000 people are in shelters.
TEMA reports that it’s likely 14,000 people were evacuated from Gatlinburg alone. Rain has been falling in the fire areas, but officials say buildings continue to burn or remain engulfed. Crews don’t believe the rain will provide immediate relief.
TEMA corrected an earlier report that Ober Gatlinburg was destroyed by fire after video showed the facilities intact on Tuesday.
Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge suffered extensive damage from the Chimney Top Fire after high winds forced the flames onto private property on Monday.
Three people have suffered severe burns in the fire and were sent to Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville. A fourth burn victim is being evaluated at the University of Tennessee Knoxville Hospital. Officials said 12 people have been taken to the hospital due to the fire.
The fire comes after strong winds caused a wildfire on Chimney Top Mountain in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park to spread rapidly onto private property in the city of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.
A fire official said wind gusted to 87 miles per hour Monday night – sending embers flying more than a mile away. Trees fell on power lines – “everything was catching on fire.”
Firefighters were alerted to 20 structure fires within 15 minutes.
“This is a fire for the history books,” Gatlinburg Fire Chief Gregory Miller said at a news conference.
Evacuations are underway for Downtown Gatlinburg, Mynatt Park, Park Vista and Ski Mountain in Gatlinburg, and for the south part of Pigeon Forge close to Sevierville. A wildfire is also at the edge of Dollywood property.
Officials said there are no structure fires within Dollywood, although the fire got close to Dollywood.
Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is intact as of 11:30 a.m. Tuesday.
OBER Gatlinburg has not burned.
Dean Flener with TEMA said emergency crews are being deployed to Gatlinburg to help with the wildfires. He also said they are working with the National Guard to clear the roads.
More than 200 more firefighters are being called in.
“We have had the state of emergency center evacuated in Nashville since the start of these wildfires many days ago. We are in full activation mode tonight trying to coordinate resources with Sevier County, to get resources, fire apparatuses into the county to help them in the response to these wildfires. We’re also working with the National Guard to get personnel in there to clear these roads,” Fleener said.
Flener said one thing he asks is the people in Sevier County to stay off their phones, unless they are making emergency calls. He says emergency communication is a huge part of what TEMA does. Everything is now over networks and networks can get inundated.
“We have seen an inundation of the mobile lines, especially on the Verizon system, and it would be a great help, unless they’re making emergency calls, to please stay off their Verizon phones and their mobile devices and all of their devices and even other mobile carriers as well and that would be a big help to emergency responders and between emergency responders.,” said Flener.
TEMA said that Tennessee’s Fire Mutual Aid system is coordinating the arrival of 50 to 60 fire apparatuses from local departments around from as far north as Greenville and as far south as McMinn County.
Tennessee Department of Health is also coordinating to send medical units from surrounding counties to assist with any medical transports.
There were 11,595 power outages as of 9 a.m. Tuesday in Sevier County. Sevier and Green County schools are closed and numerous roads are shut down.