Authorities in Tennessee announced death toll Wednesday from ongoing wildfires as they continue to burn through the state causing major damage to homes and businesses across the area. The fire has deemed it too dangerous for locals to return.
Victims of the Fire
As seven deaths have been confirmed thus far, Tennessee law enforcement continue to work alongside the National Guard to sift through wreckage in search of possible survivors.
The fires spread at an alarming rate causing havoc for woodland neighborhoods surrounding the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, setting the towns ablaze and injuring many over the span of a few hours Monday night.
A horrified local of Gatlinburg, Ric Morgan, described the scene of his escape from his home with the help of his neighbor, as seeing “rivers of fire” spreading towards his apartment, according to Knoxville News Sentinel.
Another devastated witness, Cindy Davenport, rushed into town to aid her father’s evacuation, telling reporters, “He said he could see the fire, and he’s blind.”
Tennessee’s emergency management agency quoted a total count of 14,000 Gatlinburg locals evacuated amongst another estimated 500 from neighboring town Pigeion Forge.
The fires initially sparked within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, blazing its way towards surrounding towns with the help of heavy winds.
The fire chief of Gatlinburg, Greg Miller, described the severity of the situation to The Tennessean, a local publication, as eight new fires had sparked despite the rain fall throughout Tuesday and Wednesday. He explained that the combination of heavy winds spreading the wildfire and a long lasting drought in the region caused a travesty taking local fire-fighters by surprise.
Nashville Public Radio stated:
“There were times … where we had wind gusts in excess of 87 miles an hour. That is hurricane force. That is nowhere to be when trying to fight a fire,” Miller said. “At the same time we were facing that challenge, those high winds were knocking down trees. Those trees were hitting power lines and they were falling on this very dry, extreme drought-like condition, and everything was catching on fire.”
The Red Cross reported an estimate of 1,100 people still occupying emergency shelters as well as 10,000 others having no access to any power as of Wednesday morning. Current calculations estimate a total loss of more than 150 buildings in the Sevier County area.
Although the rainfall could potentially aid in efforts to subdue fires, Tennessee Public Radio explained, it instigated “small mudslides on slopes where there is no longer any brush to hold the ground in place”, hindering rescue efforts.