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Wildfires Exact Human, Structural Toll

Friday, December 2, 2016

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Wildfires covering some 15,000 acres were responsible for killing at least seven people and destroying 700 structures in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, according to officials from the National Park Service.

Authorities put the death count at seven Thursday (Dec. 1) morning, four days after the fires first ignited in forests surrounding the resort town of Gatlinburg, TN.

More victims may be recovered, as several families report they have not heard from missing family members, according to CNN.

More than 50 people were reportedly injured and treated at local hospitals for burns, the report noted.

Search and rescue efforts were ongoing in the town Wednesday and Thursday. Some 14,000 residents and tourists were evacuated Monday and have not been permitted to reenter the city.

Rain and Threats

Rain has fallen in the area over the past two days and more is expected.

Officials warn that accompanying wind gusts may contribute to active fire behavior, as fires continued to burn in brush, hardwood slash and leaf litter.

“The threat from this fire is still there,” National Park officials said.

Officials note that prior to the fire the area had experienced a four-month-long drought.

Trail Fire

The fire started Sunday (Nov. 23) on a trail about 10 miles south of the city of Gatlinburg, according to the National Park Service.

Strong winds of up to 80 mph helped spread the fire into the town on Monday, reports say. Nine fire crews, 22 fire engines, seven helicopters, four bulldozers and 285 personnel worked for days to combat the raging wildfires.

While the cause of the first blaze is still under investigation, National Park Service said it is believed to be “human caused.”

‘Apocalyptic’ Scene

Initial assessments indicate more than 700 structures, 300 in Gatlinburg and 400 throughout Sevier County, were destroyed or damaged. Witnesses described the scene as “apocalyptic.”

Officials said the blazes scorched 15,653 acres in total. Photos and videos posted online showed smoky remnants of homes, cars and debris.

Homes, churches, hotels, cabins and businesses were among the structures lost, but the true extent of destruction may not be clear until residents are permitted back into town. No word yet on when that may be.

The area’s largest theme park, Dollywood, was spared from the fires.


Tagged categories: Building owners; Fatalities; Fire; Health and safety; Maintenance + Renovation; National Park Service

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