Three killed as deadly wildfires ravage Tennessee tourist town
Published 30/11/2016 | 08:31
A Tennessee tourist town is emerging from the smoke, charred and vacant after being ravaged by wildfires.
Many buildings in Gatlinburg have been burned to their foundations, and hotel fire alarms echoed through empty streets lined with burned-out cars.
At least 14,000 people were forced to evacuate the town, but three were killed and the flames destroyed at least 150 buildings, including famous homes and a resort.
Other buildings and attractions remained largely intact, including the Dollywood amusement park in nearby Pigeon Forge.
Wildfires have been burning for several weeks across the drought-stricken South, but this was the first time homes and businesses had been destroyed on a large scale.
Gatlinburg, a city that receives 11 million visitors annually, is facing a new reality, but mayor Mike Werner, who lost his home in the fire, said his town will pull together and recover.
Country music star Dolly Parton said she was heartbroken about the wildfires although they spared the Dollywood theme park that bears her name.
In a statement released by her publicists, she said she had been watching the "terrible fires" in the Great Smoky Mountains, and added: "I am praying for all the families affected by the fire and the firefighters who are working so hard to keep everyone safe."
In a video released hours before the wildfires engulfed Gatlinburg and areas around Pigeon Forge, she urged people to prevent forest fires.
She appeared with advertising mascot Smokey Bear in the 30-second video released by Great Smoky Mountains National Park, telling people to avoid burning leaves and parking vehicles on dry grass, and warned that even a camp fire can spark a wildfire.
Dollywood officials said the theme park itself was not affected but more than a dozen cabins operated by the park were damaged or destroyed.
Parton is a native of Sevier County, which includes Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, according to historical documents on the park's website.
In the mid-1980s, she partnered with the Herschend family who ran the park, then known as Silver Dollar City. It opened under the new name of Dollywood in 1986.