High wind gusts, low humidity and dought conditions caused a fire at Great Smoky Mountains National Park to spread to nearby communities

By Stephanie Petit
November 29, 2016 09:30 AM
Jessica Tezak/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP

Emergency crews continue to battle blazes after a Tennessee wildfire burned up to 100 homes in Gatlinburg Monday night and nears the edge of the Dollywood theme park.

The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency said in a news release Tuesday morning that mandatory evacuations were underway for areas surrounding Gatlinburg, including parts of Pigeon Forge where Dolly Parton‘s theme park is.

A press release obtained by Kurt Chirbas of NBC News reports there is no damage to Dollywood theme park or resort at this time. However, guests were evacuated Monday night.

“Unpredicted, extreme weather conditions on Sunday afternoon through Monday led to the exponential spread of fires both inside and outside of the National Park,” Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials said in a press release Tuesday.

“Severe wind gusts of over 80 mph, unprecedented low relative humidity, and extended drought conditions caused the fire burning in the National Park to spread rapidly and unpredictably, in spite of suppression efforts on Sunday that included helicopter water drops.”

No deaths have been reported yet.

Sevier County reports 12,509 people without power, according to authorities.

“If you’re a person of prayer, we could use your prayers,” Gatlinburg Fire Chief Greg Miller said Monday evening, according to CNN.

Eric Long took to Twitter to share terrifying footage taken by Michael Luciano as he tried to escape the affected area in his car. Long reported that the driver was safe.

Country singer-songwriter Travis Tritt shared his concerns about the fire and retweeted updates on Twitter, sharing that two of his band members live very close to evacuated areas.

“One of my favorite vacation spots is under the threat of fire tonight,” he wrote late Monday night. “The Smokey Mountains of Tennessee are burning.”

Great Smoky Mountains National Park announced Tuesday it would be closed due to the fire activity.

In addition to Dollywood, Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is threatened by the flames. General Manager Ryan DeSear told WBIR that 10,518 animals were left behind when workers had to evacuate Monday night due to smoke.

DeSear he told the outlet fires blazed just 50 yards away from the aquarium when they were evacuated. However, he said the animals should be safe as long as the building have power and don’t catch fire.