By the National Park Service.
Sevier County, City of Gatlinburg, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials have reported widespread fire damage and continued fire activity throughout the Gatlinburg area and much of Sevier County including Wears Valley, Pigeon Forge, and Jones Cove. Gatlinburg City officials have reported numerous structures completely lost to fire including businesses in the downtown area and private homes throughout the area.
Unpredicted, extreme weather conditions on Sunday afternoon through Monday led to the exponential spread of fires both inside and outside of the National Park. Severe wind gusts of over 80 mph, unprecedented low relative humidity, and extended drought conditions caused the fire burning in the National Park to spread rapidly and unpredictably, in spite of suppression efforts on Sunday that included helicopter water drops. Wind gusts carried burning embers long distances causing new spot fires to ignite across the north-central area of the park and into Gatlinburg. In addition, high winds caused numerous trees to fall throughout the evening on Monday bringing down power lines across the area that ignited additional new fires that spread rapidly due to sustained winds of over 40 mph.
Conditions remain extremely dangerous with trees expected to continue to fall. Officials are asking that motorists stay off the roadways throughout the area. Travel in the Gatlinburg area is limited to emergency traffic only. The National Park is closed at the Gatlinburg entrance.
Officials have received tremendous support throughout the region included state resources and the deployment of the National Guard by Governor Haslam. The Red Cross established shelters in both Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge where over 1,300 people have gathered to seek refuge.
At this time, officials do not have information to release regarding the current size of the fire, the number of structures burned, or injuries. Additional news updates will be provided as information becomes available.