Authorities issued a mandatory evacuation for downtown Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge in east Tennessee after intense wildfires sweeping the Great Smoky Mountains National Park set the mountain resort towns ablaze.
At least 30 structures — including the 16-story Park Vista Hilton hotel — were on fire in Gatlinburg, a town of about 4,000 permanent residents that attracts a significant number of tourists during Christmas season. The population of Pigeon Forge is also around 5,875, but it’s unclear how many people have already fled the raging fire and moved into the shelters set up for evacuees.
The wildfire was also at the edge of Dollywood, the theme park owned by country music legend Dolly Parton. The flames have engulfed important landmarks, including a chapel, a church and some cabins on a popular resort.
The National Guard was mobilized, local schools were canceled and officials with the national park issued an air quality advisory.
People in the area are sharing terrifying images of the blaze on social media:
This has broken my heart. Smokey Mtns on fire, gatlinburg evacuated. This is the spur, next to the road. ?? pic.twitter.com/Nt8Kx6zmyN— Anne Marie Stills (@thepooh912) November 29, 2016
Due to roaring flames and high gusts of wind, some people are reportedly trapped inside the town. However, there have been no reports of fatalities.
Video of folks evacuating Gatlinburg. Multiple sirens around the city. pic.twitter.com/S7g4PVW53z— Kyle Grainger WVLT (@KyleGrainger) November 29, 2016
“We urge the public to pray. We urge the public to stay off the highways. The traffic that is on the roads is emergency equipment. If the public could just stay home and stay tuned to their local media outlet," said Gatlinburg Fire Chief Greg Miller.
First responders are also unable to attend emergency calls.
“We were just told by the Gatlinburg Fire Department that they had told everybody in Gatlinburg to get out,” said Judy Tucker, director of Sevier County's E-911 call center. “No one's getting through to anyone. Phones are ringing and not being answered anywhere. It's chaos.”
Several social media users complained about the lack of media coverage:
#Gatlinburg is burning. Click on the hashtag. No media coverage though as it's white people suffering. If anything media is toasting it!— Mike Cernovich ???? (@Cernovich) November 29, 2016
#Gatlinburg isn't some imaginary town that stops existing when your vacation ends. It's people's home, jobs, and livelihoods. Pray for them.— Pray for Gatlinburg (@chrisfoster44) November 29, 2016
#Gatlinburg is burning tonight and the 24/7 cable nets are re-running political prime-time programming. Yes, you should be angry.— Zach Thaxton (@ZachThaxton) November 29, 2016
Social media has the breaking news, not ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox, NBC. #Gatlinburg is burning & MSM coverage is Trump's picks, OSU stabbing, etc.— Cathy C Shepherd (@CathyCS) November 29, 2016
I had no idea #Gatlinburg was burning down until I saw it trending on Twitter. The national media is a joke.— Tim Thrash (@TimThrash) November 29, 2016
Help get #Gatlinburg trending worldwide b/c the media continues to ignore it. Let the world know what is going on in Tennessee.— Captain_Hat (@CaptHat211) November 29, 2016