Sevier fire update from AP, TEMA: Three dead, others missing, National Guard helps firemen

GATLINBURG, Tenn. (AP) — Wildfires fueled by high winds killed three people near the Great Smoky Mountains and authorities went door to door Tuesday to check on the well-being of residents and visitors of the popular tourist area.

The fires burned to the doorstep of the Dollywood theme park, destroyed a resort and chased thousands of people from their homes.

National Guard troops arrived to help overwhelmed firefighters, and Mother Nature provided a little relief as the winds calmed and rain fell in some areas. Forecasters said it would not be enough to end the relentless drought that has spread across the South and set the stage over the past few weeks for wildfires in Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina.

Linda Monholland, who was working at Park View Inn in Gatlinburg, said it was about 9 p.m. Monday when she left her workplace with about five other people. Surrounded by flames the whole way, they walked for about 20 minutes to a trolley to evacuate.

“There was fire everywhere. It was like we were in hell. Hell opened up,” said Monholland, who was staying Tuesday at Rocky Top Sports World, an 80-acre sports facility that has been turned into a shelter. “Walking through hell, that’s what it was. I can’t believe it. I never want to see something like that again in my life, ever.”

Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters confirmed the deaths but said he didn’t have any additional details. Officials were still conducting search-and-rescue missions.

“We have not been able to get in all of the areas,” Gatlinburg Fire Chief Greg Miller said. “We pray that we don’t experience any more fatalities but there are still areas that we are trying to get to because of down trees and down power lines.”

Photos of the popular tourist area showed scorched cars and buildings, and soot-covered debris littered across roads in the Gatlinburg area. A smoky haze hung in the air, obscuring picturesque views of mountains in the fall, awash in trees with leaves of red, yellow and gold.

Firefighters were still battling hotspots and a few structural fires, and officials were keeping an eye on strong winds forecast for Tuesday night.

Full AP story HERE. 

A Tennessee Emergency Management Agency update is below.

November 29, 2016 – 5 p.m., Central

Activation:  LEVEL 3 – STATE OF EMERGENCY

Red = New Information

HIGHLIGHTS

Sevier County first responders, firefighters, emergency medical services, emergency management, and local officials have been intensely involved in the wildfire fighting effort in the County for almost 24 hours. 

 Firefighting has been the sole focus on-the-ground in Sevier County and local officials have not had any chance to set up processes for receiving donations or engaging volunteers.  Please note the following information:

  • Cash donations can be made through the American Red Cross at redcross.org/donate, or by calling call 1-800-RED CROSS, or text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a donation.
  • New Hope Church of God at 2450 Winfield Dunn Parkway in Sevierville is collecting donations also. Contact number is 865-932-4673, staffed 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Eastern.
  • Gatlinburg officials are asking volunteers not to self-deploy to Sevier County to assist.  Local and state officials are currently working on a process to manage volunteers and will provide more information when it is available.
  • Gatlinburg is blocked off to the public and local officials are not providing access into the city because it is still a dangerous situation.  Local officials will announce when they are ready to allow residents back into Gatlinburg.
  • Gatlinburg officials also have not had a chance to do a complete and through assessment of damage in Sevier County.  So it is unknown at this time of an exact number of structures damaged or destroyed in Sevier County by the wildfire

 Sevier County residents can use the American Red Cross’s Safe and Well website, https://safeandwell.communityos.org/cms/index.php, to indicate their status so family members and friends know they are OK.

Residents can also use Facebook’s Safety Check to indicate their status:  https://www.facebook.com/about/safetycheck/ 

There are many fires still burning in Sevier County and it continues to be a dangerous situation in the county.

City of Gatlinburg officials have instituted a curfew to be in place from 6 p.m., to 6 a.m., Eastern, tonight.

CURRENT SITUATION

Local officials in Pigeon Forge has lifted the mandatory evacuation order.  Gatlinburg still remains under a mandatory evacuation order.

Pigeon Forge officials estimate 500 people were evacuated on Monday night.  Approximately 125 people remain displaced and in local shelters in Pigeon Forge.

State agencies and local officials evacuated likely thousands residents and visitors from Sevier County last night due to devastating wildfires in-and-around the cities of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. It is very likely 14,000+ residents and visitors evacuated from Gatlinburg alone.

The Chimney Top Fire, which began in the Great Smoky Mountains, spread very rapidly yesterday evening as high winds pushed flames onto private property.

A temporary flight restriction is in place to prevent aircraft from complicating the response.

Numerous roads remain closed and blocked by fallen trees and power lines.  State Hwy. 441 heading into Gatlinburg is closed, except for emergency traffic.  State Hwy. 441 leaving Gatlinburg is open to evacuating traffic.

Additionally, the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency has liaison officers in Sevier County and has activated the East Tennessee Regional Coordination Center to facilitate resource requests and mission assignments.

 

FATALITIES & INJURIES

Sevier County officials report 14 injuries and three fatalities. There is no other information available at this time.

Three persons with severe burns were transferred form University of Tennessee’s Knoxville (UTK) hospital to Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville overnight.  A fourth with burns to their face continues to be evaluated at UTK. Currently, there are no reports of fatalities.

POWER OUTAGES

Sevier County reports 10,693 people without power.

SHELTERS

There are three Red Cross shelters open in Sevier County, as follows:

  • LeConte Center at Pigeon Forge
  • Pigeon Forge Community Center
  • Rocky Top Sports World

At peak, an estimated 1,300 people occupied six Red Cross or independently-operated shelters. The latest estimate is 1,100 occupants in the three shelters above.

RESPONSE ACTIVITIES

TEMA opened the State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) in Nashville last night coordinating with Emergency Services Coordinators and representatives with the Tennessee departments of Commerce and Insurance (State Fire Marshal), General Services, Health, Human Services and Transportation, and American Red Cross, Army National Guard, Fire Mutual Aid, Tennessee Division of Forestry, Tennessee Highway Patrol, and Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters.

This morning, representatives from the Tennessee departments of Economic and Community Development, Labor and Workforce Development, Financial Institutions, Department of Education, Finance and Administration, Agriculture, and the Tennessee Valley Authority will join those organizations already collaborating to ensure coordinated response and effective recovery.

Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers (up to 52 at peak) have conducted door-to-door canvassing to assist with notifications and evacuations.

Tennessee Department of Transportation (32 personnel) crews and trucks have been working continuously overnight to help clear routes of ingress and egress, fire fighters and apparatus from scores of jurisdictions responded with mutual aid.

The Tennessee National Guard is activating 111 soldiers to assist with movement of first responders, light debris removal and well ness checks.  The Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency has 15 personnel also assisting with the searches and wellness checks.

The Tennessee Department of Health is coordinating hospitals and medical services with local partners.

The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency worked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency this evening to secure a Fire Management Assistance Grant (FMAG) for the Chimney Top Mountain fire, which caused the wildfire outbreak in Sevier County.

WEATHER

A line of strong to marginally severe storms is expected in East Tennessee, tonight and into early Wednesday morning.  Damaging straight-line winds up to 60 mph are the primary threat.  Heavy downpours and lightning will also accompany these storms.

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