Gatlinburg fire officials asking residents to voluntarily evacuate due to wildfire threat

Wildfire spreads in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park; Air quality advisory issued

Look at wildfire on Chimney Tops in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Report It! Chris Higgins)

3:36 p.m.

Gatlinburg Fire Department is going door-to-door asking residents to voluntarily evacuate to a Red Cross evacuation shelter set up at the Gatlinburg Community Center located at 156 Proffitt Road. Residents needing transportation may call the Gatlinburg Police Department at 865-436-5181.

The National Park Service reports more fire growth in the park over the next 8 hours with the potential for spot fires to form outside of the fire area. Gatlinburg Fire Department will continue to monitor the situation and the Tennessee Division of Forestry has staged equipment in the Mynatt Park community.

GATLINBURG (WATE) – Great Smoky Mountains National Park says fire conditions continue to change rapidly in the park.

A fire near the Chimney Tops has grown to 500 acres overnight due to extreme winds. Investigators believe the fire was caused by arson.

Monday morning the park service closed several roads and trails due to the wildfire.

“We predicted yesterday that we were between 10 acres whenever the day started and towards the end of the day we had about 50 acres in the evening,” said Dana Soehn with the National Park Service. “At some point overnight this fire blew up from 50 to 500 acres.”

Soehn said gusty winds are causing spot fires to pop up throughout the park. They’ve had fire across NewFound Gap Road to Balsam Mountain Ridge leading to Mount LeConte and near Twin Creek Picnic Pavilion off Cherokee Road.

All non-fire park service personnel have been evacuated from Twin Creeks Science Center. The park also evacuated back country campers.

“Right now we have about 30 people that we knew were in the back country that we have evacuated and given notices to via text messages and also are marking all the back country trails,” said Soehn.

Pi Beta Phi students in Gatlinburg were also moved to Rocky Top Sports World Complex Monday as a precaution due to the air quality advisory. The National Park Service issued an air quality alert because the conditions are unhealthy in the area and nearby locations in Sevier County.

Sunday, the park had four helicopters making water drops, but due to erratic winds and smoke cover, the helicopters were not able to go up Monday. Park rangers are hoping rain Monday evening will allow them to get up in the air Tuesday.

“The fire has been burning primarily in this deep duff layer, so it’s been between 6-12 inches, kind of a creeping back fire, but as these winds started to stir things up, it has topped out into some canopy trees and also into some dead hemlocks that we have standing throughout the park,” said Soehn. “At this point, we don’t have crews that can view things in the air to really give us a size-up of how much is in containment at this point, so we will be able to provide better information as our crews are able to report back in. ”

Fire crews are also watching embers from the fire. Soehn said there are no reports of structure fires as a result of the fire. She said crews are working hard to protect structures inside the park, near the Twin Creeks area and outside the park. She also said the city of Gatlinburg is standing by in the Mynatt Park area of Gatlinburg, which is near the wildfire.

The park is expecting 80 additional crews to arrive Tuesday morning to help with the fire. The fire is moving northeast and winds have caused the fire to spread to parts in the Chimney Tops and Bullhead Ridge areas. Crews say structures at LeConte Lodge or any place outside of the park’s boundaries (Gatlinburg, Pittman Center or Cosby facilities) are not in immediate danger.

Road closures include: NewFound Gap Road, Cherokee Orchard Road and Elkmont Access Road

Trails closed include: Chimney Tops, Road Prong, Huskey Gap, Sugarland Mountain, Rough Creek, Little River, Cucumber Gap, Jakes Creek, Miry Ridge, Goshen Prong, Old Sugarlands, Bullhead, Rainbow Falls, Alum Cave, Brushy Mountain, Trillium Gap, Baskins Creek, Porters Creek and Grapeyard Ridge.

Campsites closed, include: 21, 23, 24, 26, 27, 30, 31, 32, Mt. Le Conte shelter and Mt. Collins shelter.

Anyone with information on the origin of the fire is asked to call (865) 436-1580.

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