Fanned by strong winds and the Southeast’s worst drought in nearly a decade, at least 14 fires burned in and around Gatlinburg, Tennessee, forcing evacuations from the popular tourist gateway and nearby communities.
“If you’re a person of prayer, we could use your prayers,” said Gatlinburg Fire Chief Greg Miller said Monday evening as crews battled wind gusts of up to 70 mph.
On Monday afternoon, a wildfire from the Smoky Mountains National Park spread rapidly into nearby communities.
Flames blew into downtown Gatlinburg, forcing authorities to evacuate their original command post at City Hall, said Dana Soehn, spokesperson for the National Parks Service. She was uncertain of the condition of City Hall, but noted that several homes and businesses were in flames in and near town.
The National Guard has been activated to help with the fire fight and evacuations, she said.
The Sevier County Emergency Management Agency issued evacuations from Gatlinburg and nearby communities, including the north end of Pigeon Forge.
“Nobody is allowed into the city at this time. If you are currently in Gatlinburg and are able to evacuate … evacuate immediately.”
There were no deaths reported, according to the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency. But a male evacuee was reportedly injured and an accident involving a fire truck may have also caused minor injuries, the agency said.
As of 10 p.m. local time Monday, at least 30 buildings in Gatlinburg were on fire, including a 16-story hotel and an apartment structure, according to the agency.
The blaze also spread to the edge of the Dollywood property, the theme park owned by Dolly Parton in Pigeon Forge, said Dean Flener, spokesman for Tennessee Emergency Management.
The park evacuated guests from its resort and cabins. The property had not suffered any damage as of late Monday night and its crew was working to protect the park areas, said Pete Owens, director of media relations at Dollywood.
Authorities asked people who have not been instructed to evacuate to stay off the roads and for people in Sevier County to stay off their cell phones except for emergencies to prevent clogging mobile networks.
Facebook also activated its safety check feature.
The national park has closed some roads because of the fire danger, including Gatlinburg Bypass.
“It’s very dangerous weather conditions,” Soehn had told CNN affiliate WATE. “We’ve had trees coming down, limbs coming down and the fire is continuing to grow.”
The park sent a series of tweets throughout the day about fires on its boundaries.
“Due to continued erratic winds, the fires are very unpredictable and more fire growth is expected.”
The park has evacuated employees from the Elkmont and park headquarters housing areas.
Fires burned perilously close to roads and places people live. Social media images and videos showed how the night sky had turned bright orange with flames.
School buses were being used to transport evacuees. Nearby county schools have closed and shelters have opened throughout the area, reported WATE.
There may be some good news: Rain is forecast in the area.
More on the bad news: High winds are possible across eastern Tennessee, southwest Virginia and southwest North Carolina, according to the National Weather Service. They could down trees and power lines and fan the flames.