Devastating wildfires have prompted mandatory evacuations of the popular Tennessee mountain resort towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, NBC News reported.
Drought conditions and strong wind gusts helped spread more than a dozen fires from Great Smoky Mountains National Park and into nearby tourist destinations.
An estimated 14,000 people have fled ahead of the region's busy holiday season and officials estimate that hundreds of structures have been destroyed as a result of the fires. Fortunately, only a few injuries have been reported and there have been no deaths.
Dean Flener of the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency told NewsChannel5 that early indications were that the Ober Gatlinburg amusement park and ski area had been destroyed. However the park refuted the report, according to WBIR Channel 10.
Flener also said that roughly 100 buildings comprising the Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort and all of the Black Bear Falls Resort's cabins were destroyed in the blaze.
Gatlinburg's Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies evacuated employees Monday, but the attraction's 1,500 animals remained inside as of Tuesday morning, according to Ripley Entertainment Regional Manager Ryan DeSear via CNN.
Some guests at Hilton's Park Vista hotel in Gatlinburg were unable to escape before the smoke and flames closed in and were forced to take shelter inside the property.
"Fire was coming over the mountains, and the smoke was so bad we could barely breathe as we were trying to pack up," evacuee Mike Gill told NBC News. "The traffic is horrible. It's a mass exodus."
"A roller coaster is on fire at Goats on the Roof," added Gill, referring to the Pigeon Forge theme park.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the nearby Dollywood theme park told NBC News that the attraction was unscathed as of Monday night. However all of the park's guests have been evacuated.
Employees at Great Smoky Mountains National Park were also evacuated Monday.
"I've been in federal service for 25 years, and I've fought fires on the West Coast and the East Coast and been with the Forest Service as well," Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent Cassius Cash told WBIR.
"Nothing that we've experienced has prepared us for what we've experienced here in the last 24 hours. (It's) been just unbelievable what we've experienced here."
Rainfall brought a bit of relief overnight into Tuesday but authorities continue to work to contain the fires and assess damage across the region.
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