Tennessee wildfires force evacuation of downtown Gatlinburg, nearby communities

Posted at 9:42 PM, Nov 28, 2016

GATLINBURG, Tenn. -- A mandatory evacuation has been issued for the city of Gatlinburg and nearby communities in Tennessee as wildfires continue to spread throughout the drought-stricken region.

The Southeast's worst drought in nearly a decade will no doubt make it difficult for firefighters to corral at least 14 fires in and around Gatlinburg, a popular tourist gateway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Gatlinburg Fire Chief Greg Miller said Monday evening that crews are battling wind gusts of up to 70 mph. "If you're a person of prayer, we could use your prayers," Miller told reporters.

City officials have declared mandatory evacuations in several areas, according to WATE.

The national park has closed some of its roads because of the fire danger, including Gatlinburg Bypass.

"It's very dangerous weather conditions," Dana Soehn with the National Park Service told WATE. "We've had trees coming down, limbs coming down and the fire is continuing to grow."

The park sent a series of tweets throughout the day about fires in its boundaries.

"Due to continued erratic winds, the fires are very unpredictable and more fire growth is expected."

The park has evacuated employees from the Elkmont and park headquarters housing areas.

There may be some good news: Rain is forecast in the area.

More on the bad news: High winds are possible across eastern Tennessee, southwest Virginia and southwest North Carolina, according to the National Weather Service. They could down trees and power lines and fan the flames.