4 Dead as Raging Tennessee Wildfires Consume Homes, Businesses | NBC New York
National & International News
The day’s top national and international news

4 Dead as Raging Tennessee Wildfires Consume Homes, Businesses

Officials said hundreds of homes and other buildings in the Gatlinburg area, including a 16-story hotel, were damaged or destroyed by flames

    processing...

    NEWSLETTERS

    Wildfires in Gatlinburg, Tennessee and surrounding areas spread by "hurricane force" wind and dry brush, causing thousands to evacuate their burning homes on Nov. 29, 2016. (Published Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016)

    With flames dripping from tree branches like lava and the air filled with embers, thousands of people raced through a hellish landscape as they fled from wildfires that killed four people and destroyed hundreds of homes and a resort in the Great Smoky Mountains.

    Fanned by hurricane-force winds, the flames reached the doorstep of Dollywood, the theme park named after country music legend and local hero Dolly Parton. But the attraction was spared significant damage.

    Wildfires in Tennessee Force Evacuations

    [NATL] Wildfires in Tennessee Force Evacuations
    Evacuations are underway in and around Gatlinburg, Tennessee, after rapidly-spreading wildfires destroyed dozens of homes and businesses Monday evening.
    (Published Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016)

    The fires spread quickly on Monday night, when winds topping 87 mph whipped up the flames, catching residents and tourists in the Gatlinburg area by surprise. Police banged on front doors and told people to get out immediately. Some trekked 20 minutes to catch lifesaving rides on trolleys usually reserved for tours and wedding parties.

    "There was fire everywhere. It was like we were in hell," said Linda Monholland, who was working at Park View Inn in Gatlinburg when she and five other people fled on foot. "Walking through hell, that's what it was. I can't believe it. I never want to see something like that again in my life, ever."

    "Hell opened up," her co-worker Sissy Stinnett said.

    In all, more than 14,000 residents and tourists were forced to evacuate the tourist city in the mountains, where some hotspots persisted and a curfew in place Tuesday night.

    UK Police: 'Fatalities' at Grande Concert

    [NATL] UK Police: 'Fatalities' at Grande Concert

    British police said an explosion at an Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena killed 22 people, including children, and injured more than 50. 

    (Published 2 hours ago)

    No details on the deaths were immediately available, but authorities announced a fourth death at a news conference Wednesday morning. Forty-five people were being treated in connection with the fire.

    "Everything, absolutely, is going to be okay," Gatlinburg Mayor Mike Werner said at the news conference.

    The extent of the damage began to emerge even as smoke from the wildfires lingered late Tuesday afternoon.

    The Castle, perhaps the largest and most iconic home in Gatlinburg, was destroyed. So was Cupid's Chapel of Love, a wedding venue.

    WATCH: Pippa Middleton Post-Wedding Kiss

    [NATL] WATCH: Pippa Middleton Post-Wedding Kiss

    Pippa Middleton and James Matthews kiss after their wedding at St Mark's Church in Englefield, England, on Saturday, May 20, 2017. Middleton, the sister of Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, married hedge fund manager James Matthews in a ceremony Saturday. Her niece and nephew, Prince George and Princess Charlotte, were in the wedding party, along with sister Kate and princes Harry and William.

    (Published Saturday, May 20, 2017)

    Entire churches were gone. Scorched cars parked outside set on their rims after their tires had melted away. The only sound came from the eerie screech of hotel fire alarms echoing through the empty streets.

    Some Christmas decorations on lampposts and utility poles were on fire.

    Marci Claude, a spokeswoman for both the city and the Gatlinburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, choked up as she surveyed the damage for the first time on a media tour.

    "I'm just astonished this is my town," she said.

    The 'Greatest Show on Earth' Says Goodbye

    [NATL-NY] The 'Greatest Show on Earth' Says Goodbye

    The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus that has wowed crowds for 146 years with its "Greatest Show on Earth" is taking its final bow on Sunday.

    (Published Sunday, May 21, 2017)

    On an aerial and driving tour of the damage in and around Gatlinburg, Gov. Bill Haslam said he was struck by the seemingly random nature of the fire that destroyed some structures and left others untouched. Noting that much of the downtown entertainment district was undamaged, Haslam said "it just could have been so much worse."

    As darkness fell on the area near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, open flames could still be seen burning near razed homes.

    A line of strong to marginally severe storms was expected in east Tennessee on Tuesday night and into early Wednesday morning, with damaging straight-line winds of up to 60 mph and lightning possible.

    Gatlinburg Fire Chief Greg Miller said officials were still conducting search-and-rescue missions.

    "We have not been able to get in all of the areas," Miller said. "We pray that we don't experience any more fatalities, but there are still areas that we are trying to get to" because of downed trees and power lines.

    Though wildfires have been burning for several weeks across the drought-stricken South, with rainfall 10 to 15 inches below normal over the past three months in many parts, Monday marked the first time any homes and businesses were destroyed on a large scale.

    The wildfires spread when winds blew trees onto power lines, sparking new fires and shooting embers over long distances. Hundreds of homes and other buildings, including a 16-story hotel, were damaged or destroyed.

    Emergency officials ordered evacuations in downtown Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge and in other areas of Sevier County near the Great Smoky Mountains.

    ‘T-Rex’ Spooks Horses on City Street

    [NATL] ‘T-Rex’ Spooks Horses on City Street

    A person in a Tyrannosaurus Rex costume allegedly growled at a pair of horses pulling a carriage in Charleston, South Carolina. The horses were frightened and caused the carriage to jackknife, injuring the driver.

    (Published Friday, May 19, 2017)

    About 1,200 people took shelter at the Gatlinburg Community Center and the Rocky Top Sports Park, an 80-acre sports facility-turned-shelter.

    Tammy Dillon had just come home from work when police banged on her door about 9:30 p.m. Monday. She said she drove through a fiery scene to get to Rocky Top Sports World, where she spent the night in a car.

    "We drove through flames, over hot embers in the road. It was awful," Dillon said.

    In downtown Gatlinburg, workers at Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies left behind more than 10,000 fish and other animals. Police escorted a team of marine biologists and life support experts back into the aquarium Tuesday, and the animals were doing fine, Ripley's said in a news release.

    'Not Going to Stop': Haley Promises Support for Syrians

    [NATL] 'Not Going to Stop': Haley Promises Support for Syrians

    Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, spent two days in Jordan and toured the Zaatari camp for Syrian refugees on Sunday. She said that the Trump administration's stated intent to slash humanitarian aid worldwide would not affect U.S. support for the crisis in Syria.

    (Published Monday, May 22, 2017)

    Based on preliminary surveys, the Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort & Spa in Gatlinburg "is likely entirely gone," the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency announced.

    Although Dollywood was not damaged, more than a dozen cabins operated by the park were.

    Dollywood suspended operations through at least Wednesday. Its DreamMore resort will be open on a limited basis as a shelter and for registered guests.

    Parton said in a statement Tuesday that she was heartbroken.

    Three Men Arrested in Death of 6-Year-Old

    [NATL] Three Men Arrested in Death of 6-Year-Old

    Three young men were arrested hours after a 6-year-old boy was found shot dead in his mother's stolen car near Jackson, Mississippi on Thursday, May 18, 2017. Authorities say the suspects will be charged with capital murder.

    (Published Friday, May 19, 2017)

    "I am praying for all the families affected by the fire and the firefighters who are working so hard to keep everyone safe," Parton said.

    Patrick Sours, who lived with his family in a Gatlinburg motel that was probably destroyed, said he doesn't think reality has set in for most people.

    "It hasn't fully kicked in that, hey, we're homeless," he said. "We have no job. We have nothing."