The National Guard has been called in to aid with wildfires tearing through forests in Tennessee that have forced more than a thousand people to evacuate and left even more without power on Tuesday, local emergency responders said.
Firefighters were working early Tuesday to put out a fire that worsened overnight and impacted 100 homes near the eastern Tennessee city of Gatlinburg, according to officials.
“If you’re a person of prayer, we could use your prayers,” Gatlinburg fire chief Greg Miller said Monday evening.
The fire was fanned overnight by winds up to 70mph and extremely dry conditions due to an ongoing drought across the south, but firefighters were hopeful that an oncoming storm could provide some much needed relief. However, experts predicted rains on Tuesday from one storm system would not be enough to end the drought.
Officials say the wildfire has set 30 structures ablaze in Gatlinburg, including a 16-story hotel. The Tennessee emergency management agency (TEMA) says no deaths have been reported, though one person was burned while evacuating.
There were about 1,200 people sheltering at the Gatlinburg Community Center and the Rocky Top Sports Park, officials added. Meanwhile, about 12,000 people were without power and three school systems had canceled classes on Tuesday.
The wildfire started on Monday afternoon in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, buoyed by strong gusts and further exacerbated as falling trees took down power lines which ignited more flames.
The fire reached the local Dollywood theme park, in the east Tennessee town of Pigeon Forge, and guests in neighboring cabins were forced to evacuate. East Tennessee Red Cross called on people to avoid Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and the Smoky Mountains area as emergency services evacuated those towns.
Employees of the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies in Gatlinburg were also evacuated, local news outlet WATE reported, and the aquarium reportedly took safety measures to ensure the animals inside were not affected by smoke inhalation. Ryan DeSears, general manager of the aquarium, told WBIR-TV that workers were anxious to return to check on the wellbeing of the 10,518 animals.
Wildfires have also been raging over the past two days in Georgia and North Carolina, which have experienced similarly dry conditions.
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