Gatlinburg wildfires rage on; 3 confirmed dead - | Lufkin and Nacogdoches, Texas

Gatlinburg wildfires rage on; 3 confirmed dead

(Source: @JasonZachryTN/Twitter/CNN) (Source: @JasonZachryTN/Twitter/CNN)
(Source: Twitter) (Source: Twitter)
(Source: Twitter) (Source: Twitter)

Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters confirmed three people have been killed in the ongoing Gatlinburg wildfires.

Gatlinburg, Tennessee, leaders said hundreds of buildings have been damaged in the city and the surrounding areas.

A massive wildfire, spread through strong wind gusts Monday evening, continues to threaten properties in the area.

Gatlinburg Fire Department Chief Greg Miller said 12 additional people have been injured in the fire, but their injuries are not considered life-threatening. 

Tennessee Emergency Management Agency declared a Level III State of Emergency for the affected area.

Mobile users: Click here to see pictures of the fire.

"We have never seen an event like this," Waters said.

Gatlinburg Mayor Mike Warner said more than half of the city has been damaged, but he kept his optimism at a high level.

"We will rebuild, and we will remain the premiere resort community that we will be OK," Warner said.

Gatlinburg and surrounding areas remain evacuated due to wildfires in the Smoky Mountains. The Gatlinburg fire chief said he did not have a time frame on when the evacuation orders would be lifted.

However, evacuation orders in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee have since been lifted. The city announced that businesses are open and the city is operating as usual.

"It's a little numbing to be honest with you to see the extent of the damage," Governor Bill Haslam said. "This is the largest fire in the last 100 years in the state of Tennessee."

TEMA said hundreds of homes were damaged or destroyed as of Tuesday morning. An estimated 14,000 visitors and residents have been evacuated.

According to the National Park Service, the Smoky Mountains host millions of people each year. There were over 10 million visitors to the park in 2014, making it one of the most visited areas in the nation.

"It's a mini-miracle that they were able to keep as control of the fire as they were," Haslam said. 

Haslam confirmed that President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence called and offered their support and resources to help in the area.

While gusts were less severe on Tuesday than Monday, they are still worrisome.

"The single greatest concern is the wind," Miller said. 

Miller said there were trees and electrical lines down, preventing access to certain areas at this time. No firefighters have been injured while fighting this fire.

"All of our time is still not being able to do damage assessment because we're still fighting fires," Miller said. "We may spend a lot of the evening fighting more fires."

Emergency officials and firefighters have battled winds that surpassed 80 mph at times, creating more problems for firefighters. Miller said rain is in the forecast and they are hoping the rain will hit at the same time the wind does. 

Resident escapes fire on scooter

A handicapped man, who lost both of his legs below the knee in separate accidents, said he called for help when the fire was approaching his apartment. He said no one came for two hours. 

He was able to get help from a neighbor so he could get into his chair. He drove miles in his scooter downtown. That is where he was able to eventually catch a ride from a trolley worker and reach the evacuation center.

"People with disabilities, you're expecting to get information like everybody else about evacuating and nobody showed up to tell me," Rick Morgan said.

Damage left behind

Video posted on Twitter shows the Park Vista Hotel in Gatlinburg with flames rising outside the windows. Multiple news stations in the area reported that people were trapped inside the hotel, but according to WVLT, everyone was evacuated from the building.

Late Monday night and early Tuesday morning, TEMA received reports that the destination Ober Gatlinburg had been destroyed in the fire. However, a video on the attraction's Facebook page shows that the facility is OK as of Tuesday morning.

Haslam joined Sevier County leaders in speaking words of hope and encouragement during Tuesday's press conference.

"This is a special place to the world and it will remain that way," Haslam said.

Residents in the area can use the Red Cross Safe and Well website or Facebook's Safety Check to indicate they are safe.

The TN Task Force is sending five volunteers and six K-9 units to Gatlinburg to help with search and rescue operations. Guardsmen with the Tennessee Army National Guard 1/230th in Jackson, TN, have been assisting emergency responders with fighting the fires since they broke out.

According to TEMA, State Hwy 441 heading to Gatlinburg is closed, except for emergency traffic. The opposite direction is open for people evacuating.

A number of residents took to social media to post videos of their evacuation.

WARNING: These videos contain profanity that may not be suitable for all viewers.

Emergency officials are asking people to stay off of their cellphones except for emergencies.

Despite numerous reports that the fire had reached the popular tourist attraction Dollywood, the theme park sent out a statement saying it had not sustained any damage. 

NBC's Kurt Chirbas tweeted the statement which read, in part: 

"Dollywood crews and firefighters are working to protect the park areas adjacent to a fire burning on Upper Middle Creek Ridge. There is no damage at the park at this time.....For the safety of our guests, earlier this evening, resort staff evacuated families staying in 50 rooms staying at Dollywood's DreamMore Resort and families staying in the 19 cabins at Dollywood's Smoky Mountain Cabins."

Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort is currently open to guests. The Dollywood theme park will resume normal operation at 2 p.m. on Friday.

Sen. Bob Corker released the following statement about the fires burning near Gatlinburg:

“I am heartbroken to see the damage caused by the ongoing fires in Sevier County. While the full extent of the damage will become clear over the course of the day, we know that many have suffered tremendous loss.”

“Sevier County is a special place surrounded by some of the country’s most beautiful God-given amenities and is where my wife, Elizabeth, was raised. So many wonderful families call this place home and millions from around the world visit the Great Smokey Mountains National Park each year. We are committed to doing all we can in the coming weeks to help these communities rebuild.”

“Members of my senior staff have been and will remain in close contact with community, state and local officials, and we continue to extend our thoughts and prayers to all those who have been in harm’s way,”

What is damaged, destroyed, and safe

WBIR has composed a list of what structures and areas of Gatlinburg have been damaged or destroyed and what is unharmed. That list includes:

Alamo Steakhouse: Destroyed

The American Eagle Foundation: All birds have been relocated and are safe

Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts: All buildings except Hughes Hall and Wild Wing survived with little damage. (More info)

Black Bear Falls: Earlier reports from TEMA said it was destroyed, but management has confirmed no damage

Buckberry Lodge: Says they are “currently assessing the situation and conditions of the lodge.” Currently unable to take reservations. 

Carr’s Cottages: No known damage as of Tuesday morning

Chalet Village: Suffered damage, but not destroyed

Cupid's Chapel of Love: Destroyed

Chapel at the Park: Intact. More info here.

Christ in the Smokies Museum and Garden: They are told their museum is fine, but they have not been able to get there to evaluate it yet. 

CLIMB Works: Intact

Cobbly Knob area: About 70 homes destroyed

Days Inn on the River: Owner confirmed to WBIR they believe the building is still standing, though they think a the Quality Inn behind it will likely be damaged.

Deer Ridge Mountain Resort: Intact (link)

Dollywood: Several cabins damaged or destroyed. DreamMore resort not damaged. Dollywood park has some wind damage but no damage from fire. Park will be closed Wednesday. (More info)

Elkmont: Intact 

Elk Springs Resort: Cabins seem to be in fine shape, though some employees lost their homes. 

Gatlinburg-Pittman High School: Not damaged

Hillbilly Golf: Buildings intact, some damage to the golf course.

Highland Condominiums: Views from the air indicate very heavy damage

Honeymoon Hills: Intact. More info here.

LeConte Lodge: Intact

Little Log Wedding Chapel: Intact

Log Cabin Pancake House (Pigeon Forge):  Untouched. They are not sure of the status of their Gatlinburg location on the Historic Nature Trail. 

Mysterious Mansion: Unknown-- conflicting reports earlier said it was destroyed, but that may not be the case. Follow their Facebook page for further updates.

Ober Gatlinburg: Intact

Park Vista hotel: Intact (More info)

Parrot Mountain: Intact

Pi Beta Phi Elementary School: Intact (Suffered some minor wind and smoke damage)

Pittman Center Elementary School: Not damaged

Ripley's Aquarium: Intact. Biologists at the aquarium confirm the animals are OK. (More info)

Rocky Waters Motor Inn: Owner confirmed to WBIR they believe the building is still standing.

The Island: Completely untouched by fire. 

The Mountain Lodge (Restaurant): Destroyed.

Tree Tops Resort: They know some (if not all) of their buildings have been destroyed. They saidit is possible some may not have been, but they have not been able to return yet.

Wear's Valley area: About 70 homes destroyed

Westgate Resort: Several cabins damaged. Main check-in building is just a skeleton. 

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