UPDATE: Seven people in Sevier County have been killed from the wildfires. Wide Open Country will keep you updated as the situation unfolds.
Raging wildfires forced evacuations in East Tennessee over the past several days as they inch closer to massive tourist attractions such as Dollywood. Officials ordered the evacuation of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, two major tourist destinations in the area.
Dollywood staff also evacuated 19 of its rental cabins and began taking precautions to protect attractions from the blaze. So far, the fires have avoided the theme park. However, big wind gusts over the weekend caused the flames to move rapidly and erratically.
The mandatory wildfire evacuations are unprecedented in the area. Officials asked everyone in Sevier County to remain alert. They also requested citizens keep cell phone usage to a minimum in order to free up communication between firefighters and other officials. Sevier County’s population is around 100,000 people.
So far, more than 14,000 have been displaced by the fires. Emergency crews treated dozens for burns, but thankfully there are no fatalities to report.
So far, fires claimed about 30 buildings in Gatlinburg. Those include a hotel, an arts and crafts school, a few homes and a few businesses. Nearby Dollywood sees about 3 million guests in a typical season. Since the early 1960s, Dollywood has grown into one of the premier theme park sites in the country. The whole amusement park comprises about 300 acres near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Officials believe humans caused the fires.
Pigeon Forge became a town littered with tourist attractions after the success of the park. Themed restaurants and shows littler the main highway. Police closed off the highway earlier this month. More than 200 firefighters have asked for well-meaning visitors to stay away and don’t try to offer physical help.
Instead, donate to the Red Cross for disaster relief. You can do so at their website, or by texting REDCROSS to 90999. You’ll be charged a $10 donation.