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'Worst is Definitely Over With,' Gatlinburg Fire Chief Says, As Crews Fight 14 Remaining Blazes

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Great Smoky Mountains National Park via Facebook
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Though devastating wildfires in the Gatlinburg/Sevier County area of Tennessee have scorched more than 100 buildings, downtown Gatlinburg is mostly intact, officials said at a press conference this morning.

"The worst is definitely over with," according to Gatlinburg Fire Chief Greg Miller. "We're dealing with 15 mile-an-hour winds today, where we were dealing with 87 mile-an-hour winds last night."

More than 2,000 people have checked into emergency shelters. Hundreds of firefighters from around the region arrived help extinguish blazes.

Miller said they were still working on about 14 structure fires, mostly smoldering foundations.

The blaze began in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. "Unpredicted, extreme weather conditions on Sunday afternoon through Monday led to the exponential spread of fires both inside and outside of the National Park," said a post on the park's Facebook page.

"Severe wind gusts of over 80 mph, unprecedented low relative humidity, and extended drought conditions caused the fire burning in the National Park to spread rapidly and unpredictably, in spite of suppression efforts on Sunday that included helicopter water drops. Wind gusts carried burning embers long distances causing new spot fires to ignite across the north-central area of the park and into Gatlinburg."

Officials at the press conference said 12 patients were transported to hospitals outside the Gatlinburg area, most with non-life-threatening injuries, and they do not yet have an official report of fatalities.

WUOT Knoxville and WPLN Nashville are also providing updates on the fires.