Gatlinburg Residents Evacuate
Hamilton County (WDEF) – Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters confirmed three people are now dead after wildfires tore through homes and businesses around Gatlinburg.
According to TEMA, after yesterday’s strong winds, embers from a wildfire in the Smokey Mountains spread rapidly forcing thousands of residents to evacuate.
News 12 spoke with Rikki McDonald who lost almost everything.
Unfortunately, this is the story for thousands of Sevier County residents as wildfires sweep throughout the area.
“I ran into my house and I couldn’t see 10 feet in front of me because the smoke was so thick inside and it was burning my eyes.”
McDonald has lived in Gatlinburg for her entire life and said what she witnessed is devastating.
“Sitting in parked traffic waiting to try to evacuate and a bear came off the mountain that I live on and ran across the street and like deer were coming out of the mountains. There are buildings downtown that we own that have burned down to the ground”
Hundreds of homes and businesses destroyed within a matter of minutes.
“We have a large amount fire. Several commercial buildings as well as cabins that are burning.”
Several area fire departments from all over the Volunteer state are stepping in to help.
The group is called a Strike team.
“It’s a group of 5 fire engines that can respond up there to handle any type of a fire they may have. Whether it be a new structure fire occur or a new wildfire or anything else. The fire department goes to assist the other fire departments”, said Chattanooga Fire Department Assistant Fire Chief Hague.
Chief Hague said firefighters are facing challenges.
“They’re going to have to fight fires with limited resources, limited water, and limited equipment. This is the first time we’ve had a deployment to this magnitude.”
While fire crews continue to tackle the blazes McDonald said she and her family are at a loss.
“We’re helpless, I mean we’re sitting in a car packed with in a Wal-Mart parking lot in a car packed with sleeping bags that we just bought. My entire family is sitting around me and we’re okay and that’s what matters.”
Chattanooga fire officials said they will continue to send additional crews as they are needed.
In the meantime, First Tennessee Bank is taking donations on behalf of the Red Cross at all of their branches.
Every dollar up to $50,000 will be matched by the bank.