11 dead in Gatlinburg wildfires, 80 hurt

(Courtesy: WATE)
(Courtesy: WATE)


GATLINBURG, TN – The death toll has risen to 11 after wildfires swept through Sevier County in the Great Smoky Mountains.

Tennessee Emergency Management Agency said Thursday night an 11th person was reported dead.

Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters said Thursday that 80 people were hurt in deadly wildfires that also damaged or destroyed 400 structures in the county.

Officials have not positively identified the 11 people killed.

WILDFIRE FACTS

  • 11 dead
  • 80 injured
  • Over 700 buildings damaged or destroyed
  • 2 schools remain closed (Pi Beta Phi Elementary & Gatlinburg-Pittman High School)
  • 266 people remain in Red Cross shelters
  • 3 people rescued (2 from elevator at Westgate, 1 from home on Ski Mountain)

Crews hope to complete their search of properties by Thursday night while the city is at a heightened risk again today for brush fires.

More than 14,000 residents and tourists were forced to evacuate the tourist city in the mountains.

Parkway and River Road should be open by Monday and crews will start work on reopening side streets, Gatlinburg Mayor Mike Werner said.

Wildfires have been burning for several weeks across the drought-stricken South. But Monday marked the first time homes and businesses were destroyed on a large scale.

Fanned by hurricane-force winds, the flames reached the doorstep of Dollywood, the Tennessee theme park named after country music legend and local hero Dolly Parton. But the attraction was spared any significant damage.

The fires spread quickly on Monday night, when winds topping 87 mph whipped up the flames, catching residents and tourists in the Gatlinburg area by surprise. Police banged on front doors and told people to get out immediately. Some trekked 20 minutes to catch lifesaving rides on trolleys usually reserved for tours and wedding parties.

As of Thursday, more than 17,100 acres in the area had burned. About 285 firefighters are on the ground and working to contain the fire. More air help is expected to arrive Thursday.

Officials said the fire was caused by people and other fires were started from trees knocking down power lines.

The chief of Gatlinburg Fire Department said they will never give up hope.

People who are searching for a loved one are asked to call 1-800-TBI-FIND (1-800-824-3463). The hotline has received 100 calls from people looking for missing loved ones.

Waters said they are grateful and humbled by the outpouring of support. He said they have been overwhelmed with “in-kind” donations and is asking people to hold off on any more water and food until they organize a place to put it.

For more information on donations, call 866-586-4483 or 865-430-7384.

“We’re going to survive and we’re going to be better than ever,” Mayor Waters said.

SHELTERS

  • LeConte Center at Pigeon Forge
  • Pigeon Forge Community Center
  • Liberty Baptist Church in Wears Valley
  • Iglesia Cristiana La Luz De Jesus
  • The First Red Bank Baptist Church in Sevierville
  • River Plantation RV Resort and Anchor Down RV Resort
  • Trinity Baptist Church, 1995 Hartford Rd, Cosby
  • Gatlinburg Community Center
  • Rocky Top Sports World
  • Kodak event center
  • Camp Montvale, 4901 Montvale Road (will accept pets and horses)
  • Livestock: Douglas Lakeview Stables, 1650 Providence Rd in Sevierville. Contact Kristi at 864-671-8439. Barker Lounge (open for dogs)

BOIL WATER ADVISORY

The city of Gatlinburg is asking customers to conserve the use of water because of the high demand for firefighters. The water quality will be “compromised” and customers are asked to boil water before drinking or food preparation.

Strain water through clean cloth to remove any sediment.
Heat water to boiling for at least one minute.

SCHOOLS CLOSED

Sevier County and Cocke County schools are closed Wednesday.

Cocke County Schools will be on a regular schedule Thursday and Friday except for Smoky Mountain Elementary. That school will be closed for the remainder of the week.

Schools in Sevier County will be back open Thursday except for Pi Beta Phi Elementary and Gatlinburg Pittman High School. Faculties should still report on regular schedule. Buses in Pigeon Forge will run as conditions permit.

RAIN HELPS FIREFIGHT

Firefighting officials reported Wednesday that the rains are helping to contain the fires that began in recent weeks in Clay, Graham, McDowell and Macon counties.

A wind advisory is in effect in western areas of the state through Wednesday evening with likely gusts up to 45 mph. Authorities say rain and high humidity should prevent winds from spreading the fires, but trees weakened by fire and rain will be blown onto roadways and trails.

At least four people have died in wildfires around Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

DONATIONS

Monetary donations are requested to support both short-term and long-term recovery efforts.

Donations to the Gatlinburg Relief Fund can be made at any SmartBank or mailed to PO Box 1910, Pigeon Forge, TN, 37868.

In order to donate to American Red Cross of East Tennessee, donate online at redcross.org where you can specify the local Red Cross. Checks can be sent to the Red Cross office at 6921 Middlebrook Pike, Knoxville, TN 37909. Also, $10 donations can be made by texting REDCROSS to 90999. Donations made via text will be on the supporter’s phone bill.

MISSING PEOPLE

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is creating a hotline to help families find their missing loved ones in East Tennessee.

People can report missing individuals that they believe are in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge or Wears Valley. The hotline is 1-800-TBI-FIND. Giving as much identifying information (names, phone numbers, vehicle information, last known place) will be helpful.

TBI asks people to not call the hotline to find out about personal properties. TBI will give the missing person information immediate to law enforcement in the area.

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