If you’re a person of prayer, we could use your prayers.
That’s what Gatlinburg Fire Chief Greg Miller said Monday evening as crews battled wind gusts of up to 70 mph in and around the town.Fanned by strong winds and the Southeast’s worst drought in nearly a decade, at least 14 wildfires burned in and around Gatlinburg, Tennessee, forcing evacuations from the popular tourist destination and nearby communities.On Monday afternoon, a wildfire from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park spread rapidly into nearby communities. Strong gusts scattered embers across long distances, starting fires that fed off drought-stricken trees. The winds also knocked down power lines, igniting new fires, according to authorities. There were no deaths reported in connection with the fires. But a male evacuee reportedly suffered burn wounds and an accident involving a fire truck may have also caused minor injuries. Several homes and businesses in downtown Gatlinburg were “completely lost to fire.” By Tuesday morning, the scope of the disaster was difficult to quantify, with officials unable to give estimates for the number of fires, their size, injuries and how many structures had burned. A report hours earlier from TEMA reported at least 30 structures had been impacted, including a 16-story hotel and an apartment complex that was consumed by flames. Staff at Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies in Gatlinburg were forced to evacuate Monday evening, but all of the facility’s 1,500 animals are still inside. The building is still standing. The facility’s webcam showed lights and power still working inside, but he’s concerned about the deteriorating air quality, as well as the smoke and flames.