Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Terrifying Wildfire Roars Through Tennessee City, Resort

Sharon Pinyan snapped this scary photo as she
evacuated from the Gatlinburg fire last night.
She said the car behind her caught fire as
flames jumped into the road. 
I watched in horror on social media last night as an immense wildfire tour through the city of Gatlinbug, Tennessee and surrounding resort communities like Pigeon Forge

Details are still coming in but dozens and dozens of buildings appear to be lost. I don't know if anybody died in the fires but the flames came into town so fast, and the evacuation was so chaotic, I definitely worry about people there.

Incredibly scary videos of the Gatlinburg fire are at the bottom of this post.

Television station WATE in Knoxville, Tennessee was reporting that 30 buildings in Gatlinburg were on fire, including a 16-story hotel and a large apartment complex.

Incredibly scary video emerged on social media of people trapped inside the smoke-filled hotel as flames danced wildly just outside the windows.

WATE interviewed a man named Logan Baker, via phone, who was trapped in the burning Gatlinburg Park Vista hotel. Firefighters on the scene told people it was unsafe to leave due to 80 mph winds and swirling flames and embers, and falling, burning trees outdoors.

Sadly, the wedding chapel
during the fire

A Gatlingburg wedding chapel
before the fire
"The only road to get down from the hotel, trees had fallen down in the road and were just engulfed in flames...Then the flames came up into the parking lot and then they told us we all had to stay inside," Baker told WATE.

The hotel's emergency doors came off their rollers, so dense smoke and hot embers swept into the hotel's interior.

The smoke was so dense in the hotel it was hard to breathe. Guests like Baker went to upper floors of the hotel and smashed out windows to get (slightly) better air.

Sound absolutely terrifying to me.   

Baker said as he leaned out these windows, he could see fires in downtown Gatlinburg and numerous cabins on the hillsides exploding into flames.

Ripley's Aquarium was evacuated, and workers there had to abandon 10,000 or so animals there. At last report, the building was still standing, but we don't know how things are there. The Aquarium's manager said some workers had to be forcibly removed from the building because they didn't want to leave the animals.

Another wildfire was just on the edge of the famed Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge. Guests at the parks hotels and cabins were all evacuated. At last report, none of the strucures at Dollywood were on fire, and firefighters were setting up in the park to protect buildings.

The Amercian Eagle Foundation was also conducting an emergency evacuation of its bird sanctuary and rehabilitation center in Pigeon Forge. I imagine it must be incredibly difficult to move all those birds out of harm's wa.

People in the fire zone were also urged to stay off their cell phones unless they were making emergency calls because the system was overloaded.

A weather station on the east side of Gatlinburg during the fires was telling: It reported a temperature of 118 degrees with a 43 mph wind, gusting to 69 mph. Yikes!

FIres have been burning for weeks near Gatlinburg and much of the Southeast due to a record drought.

A strong cold front was approaching with a burst of much needed rain last night. However, preceding the rain were very strong south winds that fanned the flames and send them cascading uncontrollably into Gatlinburg.  

A popular restaurant burns near Gatlinburg,
Tennessee Monday evening.

I was watching weather radar and you could see the increasing plume of smoke from Gatlinburg and a large band of rain approaching from the west. I was literally urging the rain to move faster toward Gatlinburg, but it obviously didn't arrive fast enough.

The Gatlinburg fire disaster comes just a week after a wildfire crashed into the big city of Haifa, Israel. Another immense wildfire tore into Fort McMurray Alberta, Canada this spring.

You have to wonder if the Gatlinburg disaster, and the other fires are part of climate change. It's hard to tease out one incident, like Gatlinburg and start screaming "CLIMATE CHANGE!!!!"

But it is consistent with climate change, in that global warming makes extreme weather more likely.

Oh, sure, there have always been epic wildfire disasters. In 1871, on the same night as the Great Chicago Fire, a wildfire swept into Peshtigo, Wisconsin, killing perhaps 2,000 people. (It's known as America's forgotten fire, as Chicago took the headlines, but Peshtigo was the more deadly of the two disasters.)

In 1910, America's largest wildfire, fed by hurricane force winds, killed 86 people in Idaho.

But it's the apparent uptick in the frequency of wildfires and other strange weather disasters that has caught my attention this year, which will go down as the world's warmest in modern record.

Something very disconcerning is definitely going on,  and Donald Trump is a fool if he still thinks climate change is hoax.

Some Gatlinburg videos:

In the first one, Michael Luciano filmed his narrow escape by car from the hills around Gatlinburg, as forests and cabins around him burned ferociously. He's lucky to be alive:

Here's the view from inside the smoke-filled Park Vista Hotel during the wildfire:

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