Note: This story was last updated at 4:50 p.m.
Fire departments in Oak Ridge, Clinton, Oliver Springs, and Marlow sent crews to help fight the fast-moving wildfires that started burning in the Gatlinburg area on Monday.
The Oak Ridge Fire Department was helping crews in the area around Gatlinburg, a mountain town near Great Smoky Mountains National Park, on Monday night, the City of Oak Ridge said.
Oak Ridge Police Department officers were also on standby, the city said.
Tuesday morning, firefighter Jordan Alcorn said it was a long night, but the Engine 2 crew was on Interstate 40 West headed home.
“Thank you all for the prayers and kind words, that fight is not over, so keep our relief in your prayers!” Alcorn said.
Later Tuesday morning, the city said Oak Ridge Fire Department crews were continuing to help battle the Great Smoky Mountains wildfire.
“There is massive damage and reports of people injured or missing,” the city said. “Please continue to keep everyone affected by this in your thoughts and prayers today.”
Also Tuesday morning, Clinton Fire Chief Archie Brummitt said the Clinton Fire Department was in Gatlinburg in Sevier County. One CFD engine and five firemen responded Monday night around midnight, Brummitt said.
He said he is staying in touch with, and checking the status of, the firemen hourly.
“Right now, our guys are helping where ever they are needed,” Brummitt said.
The Oliver Springs Fire Department said it sent a truck and a crew of three to help as part of a mutual-aid task force.
“Please keep the Oliver Springs Fire Department and other area departments in your prayers as they send crews to assist with the wildfire in Gatlinburg,” the department said.
Members of the Marlow Volunteer Fire Department were also helping to fight the fires, the department said.
See more information here about other agencies that have responded or are in stand-by, including Anderson County Sheriff’s Department, Anderson County EMS, and Anderson County Emergency Management.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited park in the United States, said unpredicted, extreme weather conditions on Sunday afternoon through Monday led to the exponential spread of fires both inside and outside of the 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,” officials said. “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.”
All park facilities were closed Tuesday due to the extensive fire activity and downed trees.
The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency reported at 8 a.m. Tuesday that thousands of residents and visitors were evacuated overnight in Sevier County. Hundreds of structures were damaged and destroyed by the wildfires, according to local emergency management officials.
“The state is proving a coordinated response, including the National Guard, to help all those affected by the devastating wildfires burning in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and throughout the Great Smoky Mountain National Park,” Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam said in a statement. “TEMA encourages residents in Sevier County to stay off mobile devices, unless it is an emergency, to prevent outage.”
TEMA said hundreds of firefighters, and local and state personnel, were responding to the wildfire, or coordinating to help those who are.
“It is very likely 14,000-plus residents and visitors evacuated from Gatlinburg alone,” TEMA said.
The wildfires were around Pigeon Forge as well.
The Chimney Top Fire, which began in the Great Smoky Mountains, spread very rapidly Monday evening as high winds pushed flames onto private property.
“Even with the rain that is currently falling there, the fires continue to burn and structures remain engulfed, with little hope that the rainfall will bring immediate relief,” TEMA said.
A temporary flight restriction is in place to prevent aircraft from complicating the response.
TEMA said numerous roads remain closed and blocked by fallen trees and power lines. State Highway 441 heading into Gatlinburg is closed, except for emergency traffic. State Highway 441 leaving Gatlinburg is open to evacuating traffic.
The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency has liaison officers in Sevier County and has activated the East Tennessee Regional Coordination Center to help with resource requests and mission assignments.
Greene and Sevier County schools are closed today. Cocke County schools are running two hours late.
Three people with severe burns were transferred form University of Tennessee’s hospital in Knoxville to Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville overnight, TEMA said. A fourth with burns to their face continues to be evaluated at UT in Knoxville, authorities said. Currently, there are no reports of fatalities.
Sevier County reports 11,595 people without power, according to TEMA.
At a peak, an estimated 1,300 people occupied six Red Cross or independently operated shelters. The latest estimate is 1,100 people in four shelters.
Here are response activities, according to TEMA:
- TEMA opened the State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) in Nashville last night coordinating with emergency services coordinators and representatives with the Tennessee departments of Commerce and Insurance (state fire marshal), General Services, Health, Human Services and Transportation, and American Red Cross, Army National Guard, Fire Mutual Aid, Tennessee Division of Forestry, Tennessee Highway Patrol, and voluntary organizations active in disasters.
- This morning, representatives from the Tennessee departments of Economic and Community Development, Labor and Workforce Development, Financial Institutions, Department of Education, Finance and Administration, Agriculture, and the Tennessee Valley Authority will join those organizations already collaborating to ensure coordinated response and effective recovery.
- Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers (up to 52 at peak) have conducted door-to-door canvassing to help with notifications and evacuations.
- Tennessee Department of Transportation (32 personnel) crews and trucks have been working continuously overnight to help clear routes of ingress and egress, and fire fighters and apparatus from scores of jurisdictions responded with mutual aid.
- The Tennessee National Guard is activating 100 soldiers to assist with movement of first responders, light debris removal, and wellness checks.
- The Tennessee Department of Health is coordinating hospitals and medical services with local partners.
- The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency worked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Monday evening to secure a Fire Management Assistance Grant (FMAG) for the Chimney Top Mountain fire, which caused the wildfire outbreak in Sevier County.
Showers and thunderstorms after 1 p.m., Eastern, today with winds 5 to 15 mph, and gusts to 20 mph. High near 69. Precipitation chance 80 percent.
Tonight, a chance of showers and thunderstorms, then showers likely and possibly a thunderstorm after 10 p.m. Eastern. Mostly cloudy with a low around 59. Breezy, with a south wind 5 to 10 mph increasing to 15 to 20 mph after midnight. Winds could gust as high as 35 mph. Chance of precipitation is 70 percent.
TEMA is asking residents in Sevier County to stay off mobile devices unless it is for emergency calls to prevent taxing the mobile system.
Earlier, local officials had ordered evacuations for downtown Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and other parts of the county.
The Gatlinburg area fires are the worst this month as firefighters have battled anywhere from about 50 to 90 fires at a time across Tennessee as a drought has persisted in the Southeast.
You can see the TEMA updates here.
Follow the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on Facebook here.
More information will be added as it becomes available.