On Monday afternoon, a wildfire from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park spread into nearby communities after wind gusts up to 87 mph scattered embers across long distances, starting fires fed off the drought-stricken trees and leaf litter.
More than 14,000 residents and visitors are believed to have been evacuated from Gatlinburg alone. As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, 3 had been found dead by crews searching the scorched aftermath. About 12 people were taken to hospitals, mostly with non-life-threatening injuries, according to Gatlinburg Fire Chief Greg Miller.
TEMA reports that hundreds of structures were destroyed, including a 16-story hotel and an apartment complex. More than 150 other structures in the county are believed damaged or destroyed. 14 active structure fires remained into Tuesday morning.
Fires were at the edge of the Dollywood theme park in nearby Pigeon Forge on Tuesday morning, officials said. All 1,500 animals at Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies in Gatlinburg are safe, the aquarium said on Twitter. Staff members were forced to evacuate from the attraction on Monday.
Fire crews from around the country are supporting the effort, including volunteers from the Dryden Fire Department and Big Stone Gap Fire Department.
Several local and national organizations are offering ways to help those affected by the wildfires. Nationally, the American Red Cross is accepting donations at redcross.org/donate.