GATLINBURG, Tenn., (UPI) — Mandatory and voluntary evacuations spread through neighborhoods in two Tennessee cities Monday night as wildfires in Great Smoky Mountain National Park pumped smoke throughout the area, displacing residents and shutting down roads as the blazes rage.
Officials in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge starting picking and choosing neighborhoods to either tell people to leave or just strongly suggest they do so. Nearby schools also closed, and the park said the air in the area poses a significant health danger to those exposed to it.
The fire poses a significant threat to people and property at least until rain expected on Monday night begins to fall and slows the spread of flames, officials say.
Wildfires have plagued wide swaths of the South so far this fall, with the one chasing residents out of Gatlinburg starting as a spot fire in the Twin Creeks area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which combined with low humidity and wind to start spreading. The flames have claimed about 500 acres in the park so far.
Shelters opened shortly after officials decided to order an evacuation around 6 p.m. Monday, and buses were made available for those who need transportation to them, as cars filled the roads and people left town.
More than 100 officials are fighting and monitoring the fire, with 80 more firefighters from seven counties expected sometime Tuesday to help battle the blaze.
“We urge the public to pray. We urge the public to stay off the highways. The traffic that is on the roads is emergency equipment,” Miller said. “If [the public] could just stay home and stay tuned to their local media outlet.”