You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to myDaytonDailyNews.com

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.

GREAT REASONS TO SUBSCRIBE TODAY!

  • IN-DEPTH REPORTING
  • INTERACTIVE STORYTELLING
  • NEW TOPICS & COVERAGE
  • ePAPER
X

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks

X

Welcome to myDaytonDailyNews.com

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on myDaytonDailyNews.com.

Wildfires scorch tourist area in Tennessee; thousands flee


PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. (AP) — Wildfires fueled by high winds roared through parts of the Great Smoky Mountains, burning the doorstep of the Dollywood theme park, destroying a resort and chasing thousands of people from their homes.

National Guard troops arrived Tuesday to help overwhelmed firefighters, and Mother Nature provided a little relief as the winds calmed and rain fell in some areas. Forecasters said it would not be enough to end the relentless drought that has spread across the South and set the stage over the past few weeks for wildfires in Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina.

The latest wildfires grew Monday night when wind high winds blew trees onto power lines, sparking new fires and spreading embers over long distances, officials said.

“There were times last night that we had wind gusts in excess of 87 miles an hour. That is hurricane force. That is nowhere to be when trying to fight a fire,” Gatlinburg Fire Chief Greg Miller said at a news conference Tuesday.

Hundreds of homes and other buildings, including a 16-story hotel, were damaged or destroyed by flames.

Emergency officials ordered evacuations in downtown Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge and in other areas of Sevier County near the Great Smoky Mountains. About 14,000 residents and visitors were evacuated from Gatlinburg alone.

About 1,200 people took shelter at the Gatlinburg Community Center and the Rocky Top Sports Park and several other shelters opened. TV broadcasts showed residents streaming out of town just as rain started to wet roads.

At least a dozen people were taken to hospitals, including some with burns. No deaths were reported and officials said they had not received any reports of missing people.

In downtown Gatlinburg, workers at Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies had to flee because of the wildfires and left behind more than 10,000 fish and other animals. So far, the building appeared OK.

“The aquarium, as far as we looked at this morning, was intact,” said Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters. “I understand that they had a generator so they were able to do what they needed to do to protect the animals.”

Based on preliminary surveys, the Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort & Spa in Gatlinburg “is likely entirely gone,” the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency said in a news release. The agency had previously said it had reports that the Ober Gatlinburg amusement park and ski area had been destroyed as well, but later said resort officials had checked in and said the property was fine.

Officials with Dollywood, the amusement park named after country music icon Dolly Parton, said the theme park wasn’t damaged, but more than a dozen cabins operated by the park had been.

Dollywood suspended park operations at least through Wednesday. Its DreamMore resort will be open on a limited basis as a shelter and for registered guests.

Just hours before the fires spread, the singer appeared in a video to urge people to prevent forest fires.

Parton appears with Smokey the Bear in the 30-second video released Sunday by Great Smoky Mountains National Park. She tells people to avoid burning leaves and parking vehicles on dry grass, and warns that even a campfire can spark a wildfire.

Parton is a native of Sevier County, which includes both Gatlinburg and nearby Pigeon Forge.

In the mid-1980s, Parton partnered with the Herschend family who ran the park, then known as Silver Dollar City. It opened under the new name of Dollywood in 1986.

Rain showers ended in the Gatlinburg area about 8 a.m. Tuesday, said National Weather Service meteorologist Sam Roberts. No more meaningful rainfall was expected until about midnight Tuesday, and would last through Wednesday.

After weeks of punishing drought, any rain should be soaked up quickly, forecasters said. Rainfall amounts have been 10 to 15 inches below normal during the past three months in many parts of the South.

“I think we racked up deficits that are going to be too much to overcome with just one storm system,” said Mark Svoboda, director of the National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln, Nebraska.

In Mississippi, trees were reported downed Monday in nearly 20 counties across the state. Sustained winds of 30 to 40 mph — with gusts of more than 50 mph — were reported and more than 2 inches of rain fell in some areas.

Power outages peaked at more than 23,000 in Mississippi. Powerlines downed by winds sparked grass fires in four counties, said Greg Flynn, a spokesman for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.

___

Mattise reported from Nashville. Associated Press writers Rebecca Yonker and Beth Campbell in Louisville, Kentucky; Jeff Amy in Jackson, Mississippi; Jack Jones in Columbia, South Carolina; and Bill Fuller in New Orleans contributed to this report.


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Travel

Memorial Day 2017: Travelers will hit highest level since 2005
Memorial Day 2017: Travelers will hit highest level since 2005

If you plan to travel Memorial Day weekend, expect a lot of company. A whole lot. AAA said more than 39.3 million people are planning a holiday trip at least 50 miles from home - the most since 2005 and a 2.7 percent increase over last year. Of those, travelers, 34.6 million - or 88.1 percent - will drive to their destination. “We think it&rsquo...
20 brilliant ways to save on summer travel

If you’re planning to head out on a summer vacation this year, you’re not alone. A 2017 AARP travel survey revealed that 99 percent of boomers intend to take at least one trip this year. And AAA said that more than a third of all Americans will embark on a family vacation in the next 12 months.  Although a week at the beach might sound...
Slipping into an ‘Ocean State’ of mind in southern Rhode Island
Slipping into an ‘Ocean State’ of mind in southern Rhode Island

SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — I tasted the ocean in the air as I sat on the outdoor deck at Matunuck Oyster Bar, the ebbing tide draining a few feet from our table into the Great Salt Pond and from there to the sea. Littlenecks were ordered. A cold beer had just arrived. I sipped, and it occurred to me that maybe I shouldn’t write this story...
A guide to Paris for repeat visitors
A guide to Paris for repeat visitors

“Where are the fan dancers?” I wondered aloud as I descended into a cave-like nightclub-cum-cabaret on the Left Bank. My friends and I sat down across from one another at a long table that spanned the rock-walled room. It was after midnight, and save for one other tipsy group, we had the place to ourselves. At the far end of the room, beyond...
A Greensboro hotel makes climate-conscious travelers swoon
A Greensboro hotel makes climate-conscious travelers swoon

In one sense, the Proximity Hotel in Greensboro, North Carolina, shouts its environmental bona fides from the rooftop.  One of the first sights that greet guests as they turn in to an otherwise nondescript office park off Green Valley Road are the 100 solar panels perched atop the handsome hotel, which from afar looks like an old textile warehouse...
More Stories