GATLINBURG, TN (WSMV) –
Three people were killed when wildfires tore through Sevier County overnight, forcing thousands of residents and visitors to evacuate Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.
At a press conference Tuesday afternoon, officials said the victims will not be identified until next of kin is notified.
Approximately 14,000 residents and visitors are believed to have been evacuated from Gatlinburg, according to TEMA. Local officials estimate 150 buildings in Sevier County were damaged or destroyed.
Gov. Bill Haslam called this the largest fire in Tennessee in 100 years.
Haslam added he had spoken to President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who expressed their sorrow and desire to help.
Gatlinburg Mayor Mike Werner said several hot spots were still burning Tuesday afternoon.
A curfew is in effect from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. Werner advised residents to boil water before using it.
The mandatory evacuation order has since been lifted in Pigeon Forge. Officials estimate some 500 people were evacuated Monday night and more than 100 remain displaced.
Gatlinburg still remains under a mandatory evacuation order. Werner said it’s unclear when people will be allowed to re-enter the city.
More than a dozen injured
Gatlinburg Fire Chief Gregory Miller said 14 patients were transported from the Gatlinburg area, mostly with non-life-threatening injuries. No firefighters have been injured.
According to TEMA, three severe burn victims were transferred from the University of Tennessee’s Knoxville Hospital to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. They remain in critical but stable condition. One other burn victim is being hospitalized in Knoxville.
Several tourist attractions and resorts are included in the damaged areas, but city officials said the downtown area of Gatlinburg remains intact. TEMA says Westgate Resorts, which consists of 100 buildings, and the cabins at Black Bear Falls were destroyed.
Despite an initial report from TEMA, the owners of Ober Gatlinburg say the resort and amusement park is “OK,” including the buildings on the mountain and the animals in the Wildlife Encounter.
The Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge was not damaged, but a dozen cabins managed through the organization were damaged or destroyed. Click here to read more.
“Gatlinburg is a very strong and resilient community … We will rebuild,” said Werner in a news conference on Tuesday morning.
The fire began on Chimney Top Mountain in the Great Smoky Mountains, according to TEMA. At around 6 p.m. Monday, wind speeds doubled, causing the flames to spread rapidly.
Miller said wind speeds reached 87 mph at one point, which is the same level as hurricane-force winds.
TEMA has declared a Level III State of Emergency for the affected areas. Approximately 11,000 people in Sevier County are experiencing power outages.
Hundreds of firefighters and other emergency officials have responded to the area to help extinguish the wildfires and assist those who are affected.
TEMA is asking Sevier County residents to stay off their mobile devices unless it is an emergency.
Gatlinburg Fire Chief Greg Miller is asking everyone to stay off the highways so emergency vehicles have full access.
Several roads in the area are closed and blocked by fallen trees and power lines. Right now, State Highway 441 heading into Gatlinburg is closed, with the exception of emergency traffic. Drivers can still use State Highway 441 to evacuate.
One hundred members of the Tennessee National Guard have been deployed to Sevier County to assist with clearing and removing debris, transporting first responders and assisting with welfare checks.
TEMA says 52 troopers with the Tennessee Highway Patrol have gone door-to-door to help with evacuations.
At least 32 TDOT employees have been dispatched to help clear the roads in the area.
At the peak of the crisis, 2,000 people were at at the six shelters operated by the Red Cross in the area. An estimated 1,100 remain at four shelters.
READ MORE: Cleveland19.com
Article and Video Courtesy of WSMV-TV Nashville and WOIO Cleveland 19 News
Picture Courtesy of Mattijs Kuiper, EyeEm, and Getty Images