Motorists fleeing wildfires in the US towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge in Tennessee packed roads in and out of the resort towns Monday night as flames and choking smoke driven by wind swept across the area.
The Gatlinburg Fire Department ordered the mandatory evacuation of downtown Gatlinburg as wind conditions worsened and several fires grew increasingly unpredictable and dangerous.
As fires threaten homes and businesses in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, the area's largest theme park was watching the situation closely.
Pete Owens, spokesperson for Dollywood, said late Monday that no structures inside the park had been damaged. Fire crews in the park were standing by if needed to protect the buildings.
Owens said the fire has reached the Upper Middle Creek ridge near the park, and staff evacuated 19 occupied cabins in the park's cabin resort area. In addition, they evacuated guests from 50 rooms in Dollywood's DreamMore Resort.
Some areas of Pigeon Forge also were being evacuated, according to fire spokeswoman Trish McGee.
"Three county school buses are available for emergency transport and are being dispatched as needed to transport those who need to evacuate," according to a statement from McGee.
"We were just told by the Gatlinburg Fire Department that they had told everybody in Gatlinburg to get out," said Judy Tucker, director of Sevier County's E-911 call center, around 9 pm "... No one's getting through to anyone. Phones are ringing and not being answered anywhere. It's chaos."
Around 6 pm, Gatlinburg fire officials declared an immediate mandatory evacuation of the Mynatt Park neighbourhood, East Foothills Road, Turkey Nest Road, Davenport Road and Savage Gardens areas. At that point, average wind speeds were recorded at 40 mph, with gusts clocking in as high as 74 mph, according to a news release from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. "The wind is not helping, and the rain is not here yet," Gatlinburg Fire Department Chief Greg Miller said in a news conference. "These are the worst possible conditions imaginable."
Fallen trees sparked multiple fires in Gatlinburg from downed power lines, authorities said. Fire departments from multiple agencies are responding to the area fires.
Sevier County Schools canceled classes on Tuesday due to the fires, according to the school system's website.
Employees from the Elkmont and Park Headquarters area were evacuated. Officials closed the Gatlinburg Bypass and Little River Road from Sugarlands Visitor Center to Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Area.