News

Thousands Evacuated Amid Fatal Tennessee Wildfires

Officials in Sevier County said that at least three people have been killed by the fire.

Published Nov 29, 2016

 (Great Smoky Mountains National Park)
Image Via Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Three people died and thousands more were evacuated from their homes in Tennessee after a rash of wildfires ravaged the resort community of Gatlinburg and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

According to the state emergency management agency, 14,000 people were evacuated from the city on 28 November 2016. The city's mayor, Mike Werner, said at a press conference a day later that 10 square miles — covering about 50 percent of the city — had been affected, including more than 100 structures.

Another 14 people have suffered injuries as a result of the fires, which also caused the park to close.

No cause has been identified for the start of the fires as yet. During that same press conference, however, local fire chief Greg Miller blamed their rapid spread on wind gusts exceeding 87 miles per hour:

Those high winds were knocking down trees; those trees were knocking down power lines, and they were falling on this very dry, extreme drought-like condition and everything was catching on fire. That's how it got to that point so rapidly.

He also said that wind speeds eventually dropped to about 15 miles an hour.

The blazes in Gatlinburg and Sevier County followed authorities calling for declared a state of emergency on 11 November 2016 in response to another series of fires:

Approximately 302 of Tennessee’s 480 water systems are experiencing some level of drought impact, ranging from moderate to exceptional. At least three counties have requested water for residents whose wells have run completely dry of water.

In the past month, an estimated 6,000 to 6,200 acres have burned due to wildfires in Bledsoe, Hamilton, Monroe, and Sequatchie counties.

Currently, there are 53 active fires in Tennessee impacting 9,680 acres.

Three days later, Gov. Bill Haslam banned open-air fires — including campfires— in 51 counties, including Sevier, across Tennessee through 15 December 2016. By that point the number of fires had increased to 67.

Arturo Garcia is a former writer for Snopes.

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