Four people have been killed in the roaring wildfires that ravaged Gatlinburg, Tennessee, this week. The blaze destroyed over 150 homes and businesses starting on Monday night; 14,000 residents had to be evacuated; 15,000 acres in the Great Smoky Mountains have been burned as the fire raced across the resort towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.
Three of the dead were found in North Chalet Village; the fourth was found in a burnt hotel off U.S. Highway 321.
According to Gatlinburg Fire Chief Greg Miller, eight new fires erupted between Tuesday and Wednesday. Heavy rains followed the fire’s emergence, but Miller said that triggered other problems. He said, "There's no longer that foliage holding everything together, so we're experiencing small rockslides and mudslides as we have to go back into areas we previously thought were accessible.”
Miller explained that the fire was catalyzed by embers from a wildfire on Chimney Tops Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park; those embers were blown into the Twin Creeks and Mynatt Park areas Monday night; the wind doubled to 90 miles per hour, and that caused the fire to truly erupt.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent Cassius Cash said the fire “appears to be human-caused … In my 25 years of federal (park) service, I've participated in many fires, but none of that could have prepared me for this.”
Over 200 firefighters from as far west as Memphis as well as the Tennessee National Guard fought the flames.
Newmansville Volunteer Fire Department Lt. Bobby Balding said that the center of Gatlinburg’s tourist district managed to evade serious damage, but "it's the apocalypse" on either side.
At least 45 people have been treated at LeConte Medical Center for fire-related injuries; three were transferred to the Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.
Over 2,000 people were taken to emergency shelters initially; by Wednesday morning that number had dwindled to 200. Red Cross officials said on Wednesday morning that the shelter has more food, water and other supplies than it needs.