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

6 places you should visit in Cincinnati 
6 places you should visit in Cincinnati 

The Queen City is calling.  Luckily for you, Cincinnati is just a stone’s throw from the Gem City.  The our sister city to the south is teaming with restaurants, neighborhood, museums, sports venues and other attraction that are well worth a trip down Interstate 75. Yancy Deering, the director of communications for the Cincinnati USA...
There's no 'free' lunch at 40,000 feet, either
There's no 'free' lunch at 40,000 feet, either

Back in 2010, Continental Airlines was the last carrier standing, offering passengers in cattle class a free snack while rivals, desperate to cut costs, had begun to charge for that cheeseburger. Then it too succumbed, and travelers began to incorporate the pre-gate sandwich purchase into their itinerary.  Seven years later, financially robust...
Best layover tips from travel agents

Layovers are tricky. Should you leave the airport and find something local to do? Will you be back in time? Should you just sit and wait? If so, what can you do to occupy your time?  First, make sure your layover is long enough to actually do anything. “If returning into the United States, you will have to go thru customs and immigration...
Hong Kong Disneyland reports a 2016 loss as visitor slump worsens

Two weeks after Walt Disney Co. launched a bailout of struggling Euro Disney, another international Disney resort revealed that its financial woes grew last year.  Hong Kong Disneyland reported Monday a second consecutive annual loss on an 11 percent drop in attendance and a 7 percent decline in revenue. The $22 million loss for the fiscal year...
Eritrea: A diver’s dreamscape
Eritrea: A diver’s dreamscape

The coral wall rose from the depths of the Red Sea, a vast and multicolor canvas brimming with sea life. I swam alongside it for 200 feet, past tangled branches, swaying ferns and brainlike spheres, and then dove toward the ocean floor. A school of black-and-yellow-stripe angelfish darted around me, while a grouper the size of a smart car lumbered...
More Stories