By Jason Banks, Fannin Focus Editor:
“If you’re a person of prayer, we could use your prayers,” Gatlinburg Fire Chief Greg Miller told the media Monday evening. With the high winds ripping through much of the southeast, the wildfire from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park – and many civilians – found themselves caught in the perfect storm. In fact, Cassius Cash, superintendent of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, described the situation exactly as that – “a perfect storm” – in an interview with an affiliate of CNN (WATE).
According to TEMA, winds have been gusting near 80mph, and while many people were able to evacuate when instructed to do so; there are still people trapped within the city limits with nowhere to go. According to authorities, no one has died from the fire and only one person has been reported to have burn injuries so far, but several homes and businesses in the downtown area have been “completely lost to fire.” Last night, TEMA estimated at least 30 structures have been damaged by the blaze. This morning there are unconfirmed reports of more than 100 buildings that may have burned overnight. Sevier County reports 12,509 people are without power.
Authorities issued evacuation orders to Gatlinburg and northern Pigeon Forge on Monday, and no one other than emergency personnel are being allowed into the city. Among the evacuees: the staff at Ripley’s Aquarium. The animals? 1500 remain inside. As of 9:00am Tuesday morning, there are no reports as to whether the building has burned or still stands, but concern has grown over the air quality as much as the imminent danger of continued spread of the fire.
Tennessee State Representative Jason Zachary shared a video on his Twitter account, showing the fire approaching Sidney James Lodge on Airport Road (pic.twitter.com/xhrgtqj6el).
The Tennessee National Guard is in the process of mobilizing 100 personnel from East Tennessee to assist Sevier County with transporting 1st responders, removing light debris, and assisting with welfare checks.
The State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) in Nashville is open and operational, and TEMA coordination is ongoing through the SEOC with state and local partners involved in the Gatlinburg wildfire response. These partners include: the Tennessee departments of Agriculture and its Division of Forestry; Commerce and Insurance and the State Fire Marshal, Correction, Environment and Conservation, Health, Human Services, Military, and Transportation, and Tennessee State Parks, Tennessee Highway Patrol, Tennessee Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters, and Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation is securing fuel resources and equipment to assist in replenishing diesel fuel for firefighters and first responders’ vehicles.
The Tennessee Department of Tourist Development is identifying lodging resources to assist those displaced by the wildfires.
TEMA logistics and the Tennessee Department of General Services is working to secure a gasoline tanker for fuel.
Tennessee’s Fire Mutual Aid system is coordinating the arrival of 50 to 60 fire apparatuses from local departments around from as far north as Greenville, Tenn. and as far south as McMinn County, Tenn.
Tennessee Department of Health is coordinating to send medical units from surrounding counties to assist with any medical transports.
The Tennessee Highway Patrol is deploying strike teams to assist with evacuations and traffic control.
As for the weather – rain is in the forecast for the next several days – but Sevier County remains under a high-wind advisory that won’t help matters.
The Focus will continue to monitor the situation in Gatlinburg and communicate with emergency personnel throughout the day to bring updates whenever possible.
In the meantime, we’re with Chief Miller. If you’re a “person of prayer;” please pray.