Great Smoky Mountains National Park Remains Closed on Nov. 30, 2016 as Wildfire Damage Assessed | Visitor Alert

November 30, 2016 VISITOR ALERT: Great Smoky Mountains National Park remains closed on Wednesday, November 30, 2016 as officials assess damage from the firestorm that swept through the area, including Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee on Monday night. The following report has been compiled from local news reports and two press conferences with city and county officials held this morning and afternoon.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Remains Closed on Nov. 30, 2016

The entrance sign to Gatlinburg Welcome Center located in the “spur” of GSMNP on Monday evening, 11.28.16 (photo credit: Marcie Morgan via Facebook)

Known as the Chimney 2 Wildfire, officials report it as the largest wildfire in Tennessee in over 100 years with over 17,000 acres burned in Sevier County and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The wildfire event was fast and furious and caught many people off guard. The Chimney 2 Wildfire is believed to be human-caused.

Currently over 200 firefighters are on the ground with teams working to remove debris to access areas for ongoing search and rescue efforts. Eight new brush fires erupted last night with one residential structure being burned. Operations have been complicated by today’s thunderstorms dumping 1-3 inches on an area that hasn’t had any significant rainfall in five months. Gatlinburg Fire Chief Greg Miller reports that downed trees have limited access. There are plenty of first-responders to help but they’re having to go back and re-check some of the same areas due to mudslides.

On Monday night, the hurricane force winds, clocked at 87 mph in some places, created a double-whammy by trees falling on power lines and igniting sparks causing many fires at once. The current thunderstorms moving through today will help suppress and may aid in prevention of future fires if the rain can penetrate deep enough through the debris to reach the hot spots.

How you can best help the evacuees and first-responders for the Gatlinburg and Great Smoky Mountains National Park Wildfires

Officials at this morning’s press conference confirmed that evacuees in area shelters went from 2,000 to 300 overnight. It’s estimated that these 300 people will require shelter for at least 3 weeks. The donations of in-kind items has been so overwhelming that they are asking for folks to please hold off on any more in-kind donations until what has been received can be organized and transported to the proper agencies and given to those in need. Monetary donations are being graciously accepted by American Red Cross by calling 800-RED-CROSS or texting REDCROSS to 90999 to donate $10 for their disaster relief fund. The Tennessee Volunteer Spirit is alive and well in Sevier County! Words cannot express what the outpouring of kindness has meant for those who live and make their homes here.

LeConte Medical Center in Sevierville treated 53 people; 15 remain hospitalized. Three brothers were flown to Vanderbilt University Burn Center and remain in critical condition. The young adult men’s parents remain unaccounted. At this time, officials do not have a number on those unaccounted. Seven unidentified people are confirmed dead; three at  North Chalet Village on Ski Mountain, three in the Campbell Lead area of Ski Moutain, and one at Travelers Motel in Gatlinburg just off Highway 321 East. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has set up a hotline at 1-800-TBI-FIND to report missing persons. Officials are asking for people in the area to please limit cell phone and internet use during this time of search and rescue operations. A Facebook page: Chimney 2 Fire has been set up to act as a clearinghouse for property owners seeking information and for those who are seeking missing persons.

The devastation of the firestorm was random as seen by the following areas affected. Over 700 structures in the county have burned. This is not a complete list; updates on individual businesses can be found at WBIR-TV.com. For those of you readers who are familiar with the area, you’ll be amazed at the sheer randomness of the firestorm.

  • Dollywood and DreamMore Resort unharmed although fire came within a mile of the theme park which did receive wind damage. The theme park is scheduled to re-open on Friday, December 2, 2016 after repairs from wind damage are made. Several Dollywood Cabins located in the Upper Middle Creek area were destroyed and damaged in the fire.
  • 70 homes in Wears Valley burned in the Hidden Mountain and Cove Mountain areas.
  • 70+ homes in Cobbly Knob near Gatlinburg burned.
  • 30 condominiums off Cartertown Road in Gatlinburg burned.  Alamo and Mountain Lodge restaurants on Hwy. 321 destroyed.
  • The Lodge at Buckberry Creek and Highland Condominiums on Campbell Lead Road on Ski Mountain  are destroyed.
  • Park Vista Hotel and Arrowmont School of Arts & Crafts both suffered significant damage but still intact. Ober Gatlinburg damaged but still intact.
  • Westgate Resort, located on the “Spur” between Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge almost completely destroyed.
  • 31 condominiums at Condo Villas of Gatlinburg destroyed.
  • Carr’s Cottages and Tree Tops Resort in Gatlinburg destroyed.

On a Positive Note

  • Pigeon Forge proper is unharmed with their evacuation lifted which means it’s open for business. So please visit Pigeon Forge and the rest of the beautiful Smokies while Gatlinburg rebuilds.
  • Gatlinburg Mayor Mike Werner, father of seven, who’s lost his home and business (Highland Condos) summed it up in this morning’s press conference. Mayor Werner stated, “We’ll be okay, we’ll rebuild and we’ll be okay.” Mayor Werner stated his biggest concern was helping the uninsured families with their needs.

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