Everyone in our beloved Great Smoky Mountains is waking up with a heavy heart this morning...if they ever went to sleep last night. I was up till around 2:00 a.m. and sheer exhaustion took over. Been back up since 4:00 a.m. worrying about what news will bring of our precious county.
The fire started six days ago in the Chimney's outside of Gatlinburg, TN once you start into the mountains. Overnight that first day it raged to cover 500 acres. They have been fight it every since.
But yesterday, things took a devastating turn. We have been in a severe drought and as a band of rain was heading this way, it was preceded by winds up to 60 miles an hour. By late afternoon, the smoke was blowing down into Pigeon Forge and we were getting reports of fire spreading down into Gatlinburg and surrounding areas. We began to see a lot of smoke and soot. Our whole afternoon and evening was punctuated by sirens after sirens as new fire crews arrived to help fight off the fire in our sister city. By 8:00 when we closed, they had evacuated Gatlinburg. We had just received the news that the fire had jumped the tunnel and the spur (stretch of road between Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge) was on fire. We are located about four miles from that fire. When I made it home, I heard that they had evacuated the stretch of Pigeon Forge that Dixie Stampede is located on.
Throughout the night and into the early morning, reports kept coming in about new fires and more evacuations as it spread into the smaller communities surrounding us. Dollywood and Dolly's new resort DreamMore had fires all around them, but last I heard they were contained and no damage was done. Here is a picture of the fire around DreamMore.
My heart broke all night. Even though I wasn't born here, this has been my home for 28 years. My daughter-in-law was born and raised and attended high school in these very mountains and I know she has to be devastated to watch all this. Not to mention, I worried about them all night because fires were breaking out closer and closer to where she lived. She was home with the kids because my son works for the city and he was called into work to keep trees cut and roads cleared. He took some amazing videos as he was riding around on the job. I worried all night about him and about Jamie and my grandbabies. I haven't seen any updates since about 2 or 3 this morning so I am going on faith that no news is good news. I don't want to call and wake anyone in case they did manage to get any sleep last night.
CNN, USA Today and CBSnews.com are all reporting the fire and the evacuations. It is all over national news, but for those who haven't seen any of that, here are some of the pictures that have been posted on Facebook by those who are near the fire and got pictures before they got out.
This is Ripley's Aquarium in downtown Gatlinburg. Downtown was surrounded, but by all reports the Aquarium and the strip survived without major damages. Not sure how accurate that is, but praying it is true. I do know that the Park Vista Hotel up on the hill overlooking Gatlinburg caught fire and for a while guests were trapped in there, but I have heard of no injuries or deaths so I believe they got out. It is also believed that all the animals in the Aquarium are safe.
We did get some rain last night and again at 2:00 this morning and it was raining when I woke up at 4:00. It's tapered off now but a large band of rain which would be very helpful should arrive tomorrow. We have many fire departments from other areas in the state heading this wait to assist. The National Guard has been sent in and Red Cross and many locals have set up shelters for those who lost their homes. There were 30 structure fires in and around Gatlinburg but it is not known if those were homes or businesses. Our mountains are full of rental cabins so I am sure it will be days before everything and everyone will be accounted for. One of my friends at work has received word her mother's house did burn down last night so prayers for them.
This is someone driving through the fire to evacuate.
Please pray that God watches over the firefighters who are tirelessly devoted to making sure they get as much of this out as they can. And pray to God that he send rain and keeps these winds away. The winds were so bad that helicopters couldn't assist in dumping anything on the fires to try to get them out. Praying for a better day today.