Thursday, December 1, 2016

Gatlinburg Fire Update: Seven Dead, More Missing, Fires Still Smolder

Fires burn through a resort area near Gatlinburg,
Tennessee this week.  
I was afraid not everyone would be able get through Monday night's chaotic wildfire evacuations in and around Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

Unfortunately, I was right.

The death toll has reached seven in the aftermath of the firestorm that engulfed much of the area around Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee Monday night.

Other people are still missing, including a vacationing couple who got separated from their three young adult sons during the fire evacuation, USA Today reports. The sons were found injured and are now hospitalized.

Authorities are having trouble searching for more victims because roads are still blocked by downed trees, wires and other debris.

This could have been even worse, had the fire roared through a few days earlier. The resort area of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge were packed with vacationers over the Thanksgiving weekend. Most of them left Sunday to get back to work, so fewer tourists were endangered when the fire exploded Monday.

Wildfire devastation in Gatlinburg. 
While many homes, hotels and other buildings burned, some iconic attractions in the area survived.

The Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge is almost 100 percent intact and is expected to reopen Friday.

Ripley's Aquarium Of the Smokies, with perhaps 10,000 animals, survived..

Staffers were able to get back to the building a day or so after the fire and reported the buildings survived the fire, as did all the animals in the complex.

However, most of the 100 or so buildings at the Westgate Mountain Resort and Spa were destroyed, as was a locally famous wedding chapel and The Castle, an iconic home overlooking Gatlinburg, burned down, USA Today said. 

In all, roughly 700 homes and businesses were destroyed in the fires. So far.

It rained Tuesday and Wednesday in and around Gatlinburg. That was enough to tamp down the fires so they now aren't quite as menacing, at least for now.

But it will take more than a couple downpours to put the fires out, as a severe drought has things very, very dry and what rain fell didn't penetrate the dry leaves and forests in the Smokey Mountains. region.

The fire around Gatlinburg was only 10 percent contained Wednesday, television station WBIR reported. 

Some more rain is in the forecast over the next few days, but the many forest fires in and near the Smoky Mountains are expected to continue burning. That's going to keep people in the area on edge.

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