Thousands of people in Tennessee living next to the Great Smoky Mountains were being evacuated after unexpected and vicious wildfires spread over the weekend and engulfed nearby forests. The flames arrived Tuesday at the popular resort town of Gatlinburg where as many as 100 houses were burned, drawing in the help of National Guard troops and destroying hundreds of homes and businesses.
“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 Tuesday in a release. “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.”
While no deaths had been reported as of Tuesday morning, there were other threats: More than 14,000 people were evacuated from Gatlinburg, the fires came close to the popular Dollywood theme park and an aquarium had been threatened. Aquarium workers were evacuated but said they were eager to return to check on the welfare of the 10,518 animals there. Some counties also reported power outages that affected more than 12,000 people.
While rain began to fall in some areas that could help the efforts to extinguish the fires, the light showers were not considered likely to reverse drought effects plaguing the region that have led to fires in at least three states, including Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina. Rain storms approaching Tuesday were also expected to hit those other fires, including a 28,000-acre area in north Georgia called the Rough Ridge fire and also the 25,000 acre Rock Mountain fire that has spread from Georgia to North Carolina in recent weeks.
Check out photos and tweets from people near the fire below.