Sunday, May 9, 2021

Tenn. wildfires cause evacuations, school closures


Schools in Green, McMinn, and Sevier counties in Tennessee, near Gatlinburg, were closed through at least Tuesday, according to the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, and more than 12,000 people in Sevier County were without power as of early Tuesday morning as a result of wildfires, CNN reports.

At least 17,000 acres had been burned inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park before firefighters brought the blaze under control, according to the park superintendent.

Other news reports say at least seven people have died and at least 14,000 people have been evacuated as wildfires raged in the mountains.

The fire started Monday on Chimney Top Mountain in the Great Smoky Mountains, TEMA said. Wind speeds as high as 87 mph were recorded, a force equal to that of a hurricane that here spread the flames. Local law enforcement officers said the wildfire seems to have been caused by fallen power lines in some areas but may have been caused by human activity in other areas.

Schools were resuming normal schedules by this morning, except for Smoky Mountain Elementary in Cocke County, which sustained roof damage Monday evening in heavy winds. The school will remain closed until at least next week.

“The wind is not helping, and the rain is not here yet,” USA Today quoted Gatlinburg Fire Department Chief Greg Miller as saying at a news conference on Tuesday. “These are the worst possible conditions imaginable.”

But eventually, the storms that brought those winds also brought rain that provided just the help firefighters needed.

“We’re gonna be OK,” The Knoxville News-Sentinel quoted Gatlinburg Mayor Mike Werner as saying during a news conference on Wednesday. He asked people to come visit Gatlinburg and vacation once the city has recovered but noted that right now, rescue workers were dealing with mudslides and rockslides because too much foliage had been burned away.

Trees and power lines have also fallen down due to the decrease in plant life to anchor them in the ground. As a result of the hazards, many roads around Gatlinburg remained closed for several days to all traffic except emergency vehicles.

An estimated 700 structures sustained damage from the wildfires or the aftermath. A few fires have even rekindled, according to firefighters, and as many as 400 firefighters were said to be still at work in the area as of Thursday.

Dolly Parton has started a fundraising drive to assist families whose homes have been destroyed in the blaze.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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