UPDATE: Sevier County Wildfires Kill 3
Three people in Sevier County, Tennessee are dead as a result of unpredictable, devastating wildfires exacerbated by strong winds and drought. Officials are not yet releasing the victims' identities, and emergency responders continue going door-to-door, checking for people who need help. Hundreds of homes and structures are damaged or destroyed, and downed trees and telephone poles block emergency responders from reaching some areas.
After flying over the area in a helicopter, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam said it's the state's worst fire in a hundred years.
"I think all of Tennessee shares our sorrow over the loss here of life and, obviously, all the other damage that's been done here. This is a special place in the state of Tennessee. Millions of families have come here and will continue to come here."
Gatlinburg, a popular tourist city in Sevier County, experienced damage. But the Glades Buckhorn arts district, the Parkway downtown, and downtown itself were basically unharmed.
Most of the area has been evacuated, including nearby Dollywood in Pigeon Forge.
“I have been watching the terrible fires in the Great Smoky Mountains and I am heartbroken," Dolly Parton wrote in a statement on her Web site.
Governor Haslam said he's incredibly grateful for the way local, state and federal agencies have cooperated to fight the fires. Regional and national leaders are offering aid.
"I've gotten calls from the governor of every surrounding state saying, 'How can we help?' I just got off the phone with President-elect Trump and Vice President-elect Pence expressing their sorrow about what is happening and pledging to help in any way they can."
Although Gatlinburg Fire Chief Greg Miller has said the worst is over, he now says the wind is their single biggest concern.
"We've got some pretty ominous forecasting for this evening," he said. "Sixty mile-an-hour winds are forecast several hours ahead of more rain. So we may spend a lot of this evening fighting more fire."
The city is under curfew from 6 pm to 6 am, and officials don't know when the thousands of evacuated residents will be allowed to come back and see if their homes are still standing.