07 January 2017

Missing hikers found uninjured but cold and hungry in Pisgah National Forest's Shining Rock Wilderness

Two men missing since Thursday in the Shining Rock Wilderness in the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina have been found. A news release Saturday evening stated the men were airlifted and were being transported to an area hospital. Helicopters belonging to The North Carolina State Highway Patrol, Mountain Area Medical Airlift and NCHART (North Carolina Helicopter and Aquatic Rescue Team), aided in locating and extracting the hikers. No additional information on their condition is expected this evening.

County officials confirmed that the hikers were spotted by a helicopter brought in to aid the search and the helicopter crew was able to let the hikers know they had been spotted.

Big East Fork Trailhead command center. (Photo The Mountaineer)
The two men, one identified as 23-year-old David Crockett of Charlotte, NC, started a day-hike around noon on Thursday into the Shining Rock Wilderness in the Pisgah National Forest near the Big East Fork Trailhead. They were able to contact authorities in a 911 call early Saturday morning, but still had no idea where they were. Crockett's mother, Denise Crockett, confirmed to family friends that her son and his hiking partner, who hasn't been identified, were found, according to Haywood County's The Mountaineer newspaper.

Crockett is a student at UNC-Charlotte, studying accounting and finance. His mother and two siblings live in Albemarle. He is also a highly esteemed cheerleading coach of the Rockstar cheerleading squad from Gastonia, whose members were understandably very worried for his well-being, according to The Mountaineer. Family friend Kindra Rabon said the men were not injured from the ordeal but were understandably cold and hungry when rescued.

Crockett's mother said David is relatively new to hiking, having taken up the hobby just a few months ago. He has only been on a few small day hikes prior to this, she said.

“I’m sure he wasn’t really prepared for the situation he found himself in,” she said.

David Crockett, at left in orange, with the Rockstars,
the cheerleading squad he coaches in Gastonia.
(Photo courtesy Kendall Hunt to The Mountaineer)
A large rescue effort was mobilized to find the missing hikers. The men called authorities from a non-traceable cell phone on Friday morning and indicated they were off-trail and lost. Neither man was injured and they said they were staying in place, awaiting rescue, according to WLOS-News 13 in Western North Carolina.

The Mountaineer reported that the men again contacted authorities shortly after daybreak on Saturday, letting them know their fire was still going and they had found shelter. Teams were deployed on Saturday to the highest points on the ridge with high-powered binoculars capable of seeing even the faintest smoke signal.

Haywood County EMS Coordinator Greg Shuping told The Mountaineer that yesterday — and late into last night — crews searched areas near the trail and the highest points along the ridges where there is the greatest possibility to gain a cell signal, but didn't have any luck.

The Mountaineer reported that Haywood County Public Information Officer Donna Stewart said the hikers had been out in the wilderness since Thursday afternoon. Search teams were dispatched Friday morning, Stewart said, and three search teams worked through the night. Rested teams, which are highly trained in mountain search techniques, began searching Saturday. Each team consists of four to six members. The search teams are associated with agencies in multiple counties, including the Haywood County Search and Rescue.

Search and rescue teams were called out to the Big East Fork trailhead on U.S. 276 around 10 a.m. Friday and were operating out of a base camp set up where the hikers' vehicle was found. The camp included two trailers and a tent.

The trail into the wilderness area is unblazed and extremely steep and rugged in places. Conditions are difficult even in summer months. During the winter, the trail often ices over and can become extremely treacherous.

Friday afternoon, Haywood County EMS Supervisor Ben Clausen told The Mountaineer that because the cell phone the hikers used to call 911 had such a low battery, communication had been spotty and brief and their location was unknown.

"They have no idea where they are," he said. "They have no compass, maps, GPS, nothing with them."

Starting Friday night, a special alpine rescue team joined the search. "They are mountain search and rescue teams that are actually trained in alpine type search and rescue situations," he said. "They’re specially equipped for cold weather snow search situations."

Temperatures dipped into the low teens Friday night when heavy snowfall impeded visibility as crews searched through the night. Temperatures are predicted to reach 0 degrees tonight.

As searchers combed the mountain Saturday, the wind speed was just 5 miles an hour, but the combination of wind and low temperatures created a penetrating cold. The conditions were far worse for the lost hikers than those searching for them as the teams of four that were methodically searching the target area had gear designed for just such circumstances.

-- All information obtained from The Mountaineer Newspaper in Haywood County, NC and WLOS News 13 in Western North Carolina. Read more about it on The Mountaineer's website.




27 December 2016

Missing airplane and three crash victims found in Great Smoky Mountains Tuesday, recovery of crash victims to begin Wednesday

A reconnaissance flight by the Tennessee Army National Guard located a missing single engine airplane in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at around 4:43 pm on Tuesday, Dec. 27. The plane was found on an unnamed ridge between Cole Creek and Bearpen Hollow Branch. Paramedics were hoisted down to the crash site and confirmed that there were no survivors. The identities of the victims have not been confirmed, however, the three occupants of the plane were previously reported to be David Starling, 41, his girlfriend Kim Smith, 42, and his son Hunter Starling, 8, all of Bradford County, Florida.

According to friends of the family, the three people on board a plane
reported missing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park were
David Starling, his 8-year-old son Hunter, and Kim Smith.
 (Photo: WBIR.com)
Ground teams searched the steep and heavily wooded area on foot Tuesday, but were unable to access some areas due to the rough terrain.

A single Blackhawk helicopter was able to fly late afternoon and spotted the wreckage along the last known flight path of the missing aircraft. Recovery efforts of the three victims will begin on Wednesday, Dec. 28.

The plane was in route to the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge Airport from Florida on Monday, Dec. 26 when the Cessna 182 went missing over the park at approximately 4:01 pm. Search efforts were centered around an area west-southwest of LeConte Lodge.

National Park Service officials told WBIR News that they had deployed 10 people in three crews to hike off-trail looking for the aircraft, but heavy rain and thick fog complicated search efforts and made conditions treacherous. The National Transportation Safety Board will be the lead in the investigation of the plane crash.

Tabitha Ritz Starling with son Hunter Starling.
She had asked for prayers in helping find her son,
who was with his father on the ill-fated airplane
that crashed in the Smokies. (ActionNewsJax)
Hunter Starling's mother, Tabitha Ritz Starling, had asked for prayers on Facebook when she learned the airplane hadn't arrived at its destination. "Please pray for my baby. He is missing and his dad and girlfriend also. Please pray..." she wrote. Kim Smith's son Garrett has been in Tennessee helping search for the missing plane, according to Action News Jacksonville.

Jenna Bourne of ActionNewsJax reported that David Starling's cousin said David was president of a timber company and enjoyed fishing with his son Hunter, who loves baseball and ice cream.

In a recent post on Kim Smith's Facebook page she wrote, "Beyond blessed to have this sweet, caring man in my life! He's all I want for Xmas and all I need for a lifetime because he absolutely completes me! I love you David Starling to the moon & back!"

The National Park Service worked closely with the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center, Civil Air Patrol, Federal Aviation Administration, and Tennessee Emergency Management Agency in this search effort.

(National Park Service and compiled reports)


07 December 2016

Two Tennessee juveniles charged with aggravated arson in Chimney Tops fire that spread to Gatlinburg, killing 14 and injuring more than 130

(From WBIR.com)

GATLINBURG - WBIR is reporting that authorities have charged two juveniles in connection with the fires that started last month in the Chimney Tops area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and swept through Sevier County, killing 14 and injuring more than 130.

The juveniles were charged with aggravated arson, but could face additional charges later. They are currently being held at the Sevier County Juvenile Detention Center. 

A judge will determine whether to grant the two bond and - if so - how much. They also could be tried as adults.

“Numerous hours have gone into conducting interviews and investigating this incident from every angle," said Mark Gwyn, director of the TBI, adding that local and state agencies “have been working tirelessly."

Officials said little about the identities of the juveniles other than they were not from Sevier County but were from Tennessee.

PREVIOUS: We are anticipating a 3 p.m. news conference in Sevier County that will provide new information about investigation into the wildfires that devastated that community last week.

According to a press release, speakers at the press conference will include Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) Director Mark Gwyn, 4th District Attorney General James Dunn, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park Chief Ranger Steve Kloster.

The press conference is set for 3 p.m. at the Sevier County Courthouse in Sevierville. You can watch it live on WBIR and WBIR.com.

The Chimney Tops 2 fire started on Nov. 23 in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and officials said it was "human-caused." No charges have been filed and no suspects have been named so far.

That fire spread rapidly, fueled by strong winds, on November 28, into developed areas of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. Fourteen people were killed as the fire spread and sparked new ones, dozens were injured, and 1,785 structures were destroyed, displacing thousands of people.

The Chimney Tops 2 fire is still smoldering in the park, burning 17,006 acres so far, but it is now 85% contained. A second fire, called the Cobby Nob fire which started the night of the fires in Gatlinburg, covers 803 acres and is 53 percent contained. Thanks to the rain, those fires have not increased in size in the past few days, but they are not completely out.

(© 2016 WBIR)

Kick off the New Year outdoors with a First Day Hike in one of America's State Parks in all 50 states


What better way to kick off the New Year than by getting a jump start burning off those extra holiday calories in the great outdoors? On New Year’s Day, America’s State Parks have all 50 states offering free, guided First Day Hike Programs. These hikes provide a means for individuals and families to welcome the coming year in the outdoors, exercising and connecting with nature.

Last year nearly 55,000 people rang in the New Year, collectively hiking over 133,000 miles throughout the country on the guided hikes. Numerous others hiked state park trails throughout the day.

Norris Dam State Park
The guided First Day Hikes are led by knowledgeable state park staff and volunteers.The distance and rigor vary from park to park, but all hikes aim to create a fun experience for the whole family. People are invited to savor the beauty of the state park’s natural resources with the comfort of an experienced guide so they may be inspired to take advantage of these local treasures throughout the year.

America’s State Parks have been entrusted to preserve a variety of magnificent places from California to Maine. Hikers can experience a plethora of outdoor recreation activities including mountain and hill climbing, walks along lakes and beaches, exploration of trails through great forests, wildlife expeditions, bird-watching and much more.
Fort Loudoun State Historic Area

No matter where you are in the United States, you can find your park here! You can click here to find a First Day Hike near you. There's a First Day Hike for everyone, from easy to difficult.

One Knoxville-area First Day Hike will be at Fort Loudoun State Historic Park. Get more information here. Hikers will meet at the Tellico Blockhouse at 1 pm. Or, try Norris Dam State Park's First Day Hike. You can ring in the New Year on Norris Lake by moonlight with the 12:01 am hike that starts at the Tea Room at the East end of the park. The hike will end with a huge fire in the Tea Room with refreshments. Get more information here

Grandfather Mountain Mile High Swinging Bridge
Grandfather Mountain State Park in North Carolina is hosting a moderate hike starting on Holloway Mountain Road. Get more information here.

America’s State Park programs are committed to promoting outdoor recreation in hopes to help address obesity, especially in children. Furthermore, exercise and outdoor activities rejuvenate the mind and body, promoting overall mental and physical health and wellness. Many believe that time spent in nature enhances creativity and lifts our moods!

Take advantage of the resources that America’s State Parks have to offer and get connected to our country’s shared resources by finding a First Day Hike near you. Let this mark the beginning of a healthy lifestyle for the whole family!

03 December 2016

New death toll raised to 14 in Gatlinburg wildfires, new victim identified as 81-year-old Elaine Brown; friend says one of the missing was found alive

Photo @GSunDarrenReese/Twitter

GATLINBURG - Elaine Brown, age 81, of 2703 Clabo Road, Sevierville, has been identified as the 14th victim of the Gatlinburg wildfires. She sustained a medical event causing a single-vehicle accident on Wears Valley Road while fleeing the fire, according to a joint news release from Sevier County, City of Gatlinburg, Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, and Great Smoky Mountain National Park officials.

Fourteen lives have been lost due to the swift-moving wildfires in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Gatlinburg and the number of fire-related injuries has been raised to 134. The Chimney Tops 2 fire was 38 percent contained on Sunday afternoon, Dec. 4.

One of those listed as missing, Louise Brooke, who lived at 316 Ski Mountain Road, has reportedly been found alive, according to her acquaintance Shirley Shawhan, who said the TBI told her Brooke had been located. Shawhan said, "She used to work at a motel in Gatlinburg that my family and I used to go to. We have kept in touch with her over the years. We had a picture of her we wanted to get to the TBI since none were available. When I called them yesterday (Friday), to see about e-mailing the pic, they told me she'd been located alive." This has not been independently confirmed at this time.

On Monday, Dec. 5, Gatlinburg city officials will continue a damage assessment of roadways, infrastructure, and public works as the city prepares to open for business later this week. Property owners, business owners, renters, and lease holders will continue to have daily access to properties to allow appropriate time for cleaning, smoke removal, and securing their properties. Daily access will now be allowed from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The curfew remains in effect from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.
• 1,684 structures have been damaged or destroyed by the fire.
• There are currently 23 crews, 46 engines, 6 helicopters, 5 dozers, 713 total personnel fighting the Chimney Top 2 Fire as a part of the Type 1 Federal Incident Management Team.
• The evacuated areas in Gatlinburg are open for access each day from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. through the check point at Gatlinburg City Hall via East Parkway (Hwy. 321) and Glades Road. This restriction shall remain in effect until the city reopens for the general public.
• The curfew remains in effect from 6:00 p.m. until 6:00 a.m. nightly.
• The Spur parkway is open only from Pigeon Forge to the Gatlinburg Welcome Center. There will be no access to Wiley Oakley from the Spur.
• Wiley Oakley Drive and Greystone Heights Road remain inaccessible due to critical utility work. Emergency crews are working to open it as soon as possible.
• The Water Boil Advisory is still in effect for Gatlinburg, with the exception of the areas east of City Hall.
The following individuals lost their lives in the fire and have been identified by officials:

Rev. Ed Taylor
Rev. Ed Taylor, age 85, of 644 Woodland Drive in Gatlinburg. He was well-known for marrying thousands of couples as part of Gatlinburg Chapel Ministries and had just retired last year. A World War II veteran, Taylor died from smoke inhalation and was found outside his home, his son learned from investigators. His 10-year-old teacup poodle BeBe had been found wandering outside the home. The dog is now with family members.


Brad Phillips

Bradley Phillips, age 59, discovered at 412 Long Hollow Road. Family members told WBIR that he was found near his home and asked for prayers during this difficult time. Family members had posted on Twitter after the fire when they had been unable to contact Phillips, asking for help locating him.










Constance Reed, 34; and daughters Chloe Reed, 12, and Lily Reed, 9, all of 347 Wiley Oakley Dr.
Constance Reed with
 husband Michael Reed
Lily Reed with father Michael
Chloe Reed
All three were discovered near their Wiley Oakley home. Constance Reed's husband Michael Reed had gone for a ride with their 15-year-old son Nicholas, unaware the fire was near their home. His wife had called to say the fire was across the road from their house and he told her to call 911 and get out of the house. He tried to drive back to reach his wife and daughters, but the road was blocked. Constance Reed and her daughters didn't make it as they attempted to flee on foot, according to Sheriff's Department reports. Michael Reed was notified of his wife's death around 10 a.m. this morning, Saturday, Dec. 3, and learned that his daughters were the two unidentified bodies found with his wife, according to Dana Soehn of the National Park Service at a press conference Saturday afternoon.


Alice Hagler
Alice Hagler, age 70, a retired grandmother who lived in Chalet Village. She had two hip replacements and couldn't move around very well, according to her son. She was found in her cabin. She was worried about the heavy winds and was on the phone with her son James Wood, who lived with her but wasn't home at the time, when her cabin caught fire around 8:30 p.m. Monday. He told her to get out, but she didn't make it. Her other son, Lyle Wood, is pastor of a church in Savannah, Georgia.


Jon and Janet Summers, age 61, of Memphis, both perished in the fire at Chalet Village. They were vacationing in Gatlinburg with their three sons, Branson Summers, 23, and twins Wesley and Jared Summers, 22. The sons were separated from their parents after the family tried to escape from Chalet Village by car but a downed tree blocked their path and they attempted to escape the flames on foot, according to CNN. The boys were found together, unconscious from smoke inhalation, and suffering burns, according to Fox13 News. Their uncle Jim Summers said the boys had to run through walls of fire all the way down the mountain as the heavy winds fanned flames into an inferno on both sides of the road. Jared was released from the hospital Thursday, but Wesley and Jared remain hospitalized at Vanderbilt Medical Center's burn center.

John Tegler, age 71, and his wife Janet Tegler, age 70, of Canada, were found dead on Skyline Drive in Chalet Village. The couple, originally from Woodstock, Ontario, Canada, was visiting their Gatlinburg vacation home to celebrate the long Thanksgiving weekend in the US, their son-in-law Dave LaPointe told the Canadian Press. They were attempting to flee when the wildfire overtook the Chalet Village area and were found near their home. They would have celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary this year. They were in Gatlinburg with their daughter Jessica Tegler of Roswell, GA, who had already left because she had to be back to work in Roswell on Monday. The Teglers were planning to leave Gatlinburg Monday, but the road was closed.

May Evelyn Norred Vance, 75, of Gatlinburg, died of a heart attack trying to escape the fire and as a result of suffering from smoke inhalation, officials said. She was a grandmother and the wife of Jimmy Vance Sr. The Vances were formerly of Nashville.

--An unidentified person found in a room at the Travelers Motel off U.S. Highway 321.

--Three unidentified people found in a home on Campbell Lead Road.

Pam Johnson - Missing
STILL LISTED AS MISSING is Pamela "Mama Pam" Johnson, 59, a longtime employee of McKinney's Market on Highway 321. She left the market before it burned and has not been found. She was living at Travelers Motel in Gatlinburg on Ski Mountain Road. Her granddaughter Karyssa Dalton told the Knoxville News-Sentinel that Pam had a backpack filled with supplies and was ready to evacuate. She was in a room at the Travelers Motel caring for a neighbor's pets, and was planning to go back to her own room to get her disabled chihuahua if the situation got worse. Karyssa tried to call her grandmother back at around 10:36 p.m. Monday night, but she didn't answer. Authorities, Karyssa said, told her the body found at the Traveler Motel was a male and was not in her grandmother's friend's room nor in her own room. Earlier reports that Johnson had been found at LeConte Medical Center proved to be inaccurate.

***UPDATE: Louise Brooke, who lived at 316 Ski Mountain Rd. No photo available. Friends have been trying unsuccessfully to contact Brooke. ***A friend of Brooke's, Shirley Shawhan, reports that she called the TBI to provide a picture of Brooke and was told that she had been found alive. This has not been confirmed by authorities at this time.

Charles "Buck" and Diane Taylor, who lived on Ivy Road in Gatlinburg, haven't been heard from since the fire. Their friend Joyce Clemmer posted on the Gatlinburg Fire Missing or Found Facebook page on Dec. 2 at 8 a.m. that their phone was not accepting calls and they have not responded to texts.

-----
Officials released the following details regarding the coordinated public response in warning the public about the fire storm. Officials worked diligently to coordinate the warning to the public before and during the catastrophic wildfire event that impacted Gatlinburg, other communities in Sevier County, and the park. Throughout the day, on Monday, November 28, officials sent media releases, utilized social media, and held media briefings to alert the public about the status of the fire to help them remain aware of the urgency of the continuously evolving situation.

Notifications were sent to the general public through widespread media coverage beginning with multiple news releases from the park beginning at approximately 10:00 a.m., regular news briefings beginning at 2:00 p.m., and the downtown Gatlinburg siren alert system to warn the public about the impending dangerous winds and fire threat. Officials made door-to-door notifications, beginning at noon, to affected communities.

Throughout the day, the command post was in contact with state emergency agencies about emergency response. At approximately 8:30 p.m., the command post contacted the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) requesting an Emergency Alert System (EAS) evacuation message to be sent to the Gatlinburg area through the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), a system which has the capability of sending text messages to mobile devices. However, communications between the agencies was interrupted due to disabled phone, internet, and electrical services. Due to this communication failure, the emergency notification was not delivered as planned through IPAWS as an EAS message or as a text message to mobile devices. At the same time, the National Weather Service was unable to reach the local command post. Through collaboration with the Sevier County Dispatch, they were able to deliver the mandatory evacuation alert through an EAS message to radio and television only. Once communications were re-established, TEMA was able to send a mobile message later in the evening via IPAWS asking Sevier County residents to stay off mobile devices except for emergency use.

Despite the catastrophic events that created barriers to communication, officials utilized all resources available to them at the time to warn the public of the impending threat. The multi-agency response of firefighters, police, and emergency responders continues to work efficiently as they enter the recovery phase.


29 November 2016

Three Deaths Reported in Gatlinburg Fire, LeConte Lodge and Elkmont Undamaged by Fire

Three people have reportedly died as a result of the wildfires that swept through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Monday night and burned hundreds of structures in and around Gatlinburg, causing the evacuation of over 14,000 residents. Gov. Bill Haslam visited Gatlinburg on Tuesday to survey damage from the fires, which Park officials say have burned more than 15,000 acres. Haslam called it the "largest fire in the last hundred years in the state of Tennessee.

Destroyed structure still on fire. By Scott Frederick.
The identities of those killed have not been released. Three people suffered severe burns and were transported to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville for treatment. They are in critical condition. According to Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters, fourteen people were transported to local hospitals.

During a news conference on Tuesday, Waters worried about the possibility of more fatalities. "We have not been able to get in to all of the areas. We pray that we don't experience any more fatalities," Waters said. More than 2,000 people are staying in shelters in Gatlinburg.

Fire Chief Greg Miller said progress has been hindered by crews encountering downed trees and power poles. Many roads can't be reopened until the blockages are cleared, which makes progress slower. Firefighters are still battling hotspots throughout Gatlinburg, Miller noted.

Crews continue to fight a fire at Westgate Resort.
By Scott Frederick
The fire, which officials say originated from the Chimney Tops 2 fire and was fueled by heavy winds at times topping 87 mph, damaged about 70 structures in the Wears Valley area and 70 structures in the Cobbly Nob area near Pittman Center, along with many businesses and structures in and around Gatlinburg. The Chimney 2 fire had been burning since Nov. 23 and affected Chimney Tops and Bullhead Ridge areas. Many Park roads were closed due to the fire, which is currently of unknown origin. The sudden doubling of wind speeds Monday evening blew embers as far away as a mile, according to Park officials, sparking more fires, which in turn toppled power lines, which sparked even more fires. All of this contributed to the devastation in Sevier County Monday night.

NPS spokeswoman Dana Soehn said the Chimneys fire that sparked the other blazes was "human caused," but didn't give any further details. She said the blaze is under investigation.

Many erroneous reports were making the rounds on Tuesday about the destruction of landmarks, but officials confirmed that Ober Gatlinburg was spared, as was the Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies, which houses over 10,000 marine animals. A team of marine biologists were escorted by police back into the aquarium Tuesday afternoon to tend to the animals and assess the situation. Most of Gatlinburg's main street businesses were also spared, but surrounding businesses such as the Mountain Lodge Restaurant, several cabins at the Dollywood theme park, and portions of Tree Tops Resort, Westgate Resort and Highland Condomiums received damage as well, as did portions of Chalet Village, and parts of Ski Mountain Road.

LeConte Lodge, a well-known and iconic backcountry hiking destination in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park's Mount LeConte, was spared from the wildfires, according to a press release issued by the National Park Service on Tuesday. NPS officials say the lodging facility at the base of Mount LeConte, and the Elkmont Campground and Historic Districts, sustained no damage from the fire activities in the park on Monday evening. Some Elkmont buildings sustained roof damage from falling trees caused by heavy winds, and some roof repairs will be required.

Destruction caused by the Gatlinburg Fire. By Scott Frederick.
Tomorrow, November 30, the park will turn the fire management operation to the Southern Area Type I Incident Command Team (Dueitt) to manage the ongoing fire activities within the park. This team consists of federal and state interagency team members from across the country who collaboratively manages wildland fire and other incident management activities such as natural disaster relief efforts.

More than 120 Tennessee Army National Guard solders arrived on Tuesday to help Sevier County Emergency Management personnel with transporting first responders and removing light debris, as well as checking on residents affected by the fires. A press release from Maj. Gen. Max Haston, Tennessee Adjutant General, said, "We are working closely with the local responders in Sevier and surrounding counties to assist in whatever is required to save lives and property."

All Park facilities are currently closed due to extensive fire activity and downed trees. Park headquarters has no phone service or electricity. Area trails are also closed due to the fire. A ban on campfires and open grills had already been in effect in the Great Smokies since Nov. 15.

Firefighters battling the Gatlinburg fires. NPS
A 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew is in effect in Gatlinburg. A high wind warning was issued by the National Weather Service for Tuesday night into Wednesday afternoon. They predicted lightning and sustained winds of up to 40 mph, with gusts up to 60 mph. Officials feared the forecast - Gatlinburg Mayor Mike Werner called it "ominous," - and officials worried about fires that continue to smolder being whipped up and spread by heavy winds. Rain is expected in the area by Wednesday morning. Residents in the area were advised to boil water as a precaution.

The City of Gatlinburg has cancelled the "Fantasy of Lights" Christmas Parade that was scheduled for Dec. 2. Most businesses in Pigeon Forge are now open and evacuations are no longer taking place there.

For more information, visit the National Park Service on their website or on social media.
www.nps.gov/grsm
www.Facebook.com/GreatSmokyMountainsNPS
www.Twitter.com/GreatSmokyNPS
www.Instagram.com/GreatSmokyNPS

30 Structures Burning in Gatlinburg, Mandatory Evacuations in Place, Affected Schools Closed Tuesday

FROM WBIR NEWS ... GATLINBURG - 12 AM UPDATE: There are currently 30 structures on fire in Gatlinburg as residents and guests evacuate the city.

The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency says 30 structures are on fire, including a 16-story hotel on Regan Drive and the Driftwood Apartments in Gatlinburg. The wildfire is also at the edge of the Dollywood property. Despite numerous reports that the fire had reached the popular tourist attraction Dollywood, the theme park sent out a statement saying it had not yet sustained any damage.

NBC's Kurt Chirbas tweeted the statement which read, in part:

"Dollywood crews and firefighters are working to protect the park areas adjacent to a fire burning on Upper Middle Creek Ridge. There is no damage at the park at this time.....For the safety of our guests, earlier this evening, resort staff evacuated families staying in 50 rooms staying at Dollywood's DreamMore Resort and families staying in the 19 cabins at Dollywood's Smoky Mountain Cabins." WMC Action News 5.

Mandatory evacuations are in place for Mynatt Park, Park Vista and Ski Mountain in Gatlinburg. Evacuations have also been ordered for the north end of Pigeon Forge.

There are no reports of fatalities from the fires, according to TEMA. There is one report of an evacuee suffering a burn injury.

There are reports of downed power lines and trees, TEMA said.

The Tennessee National Guard is deploying personnel to Sevier County to help with clearing debris. The Tennessee Highway Patrol and the Tennessee Department of Transportation are assisting with evacuations and traffic control in the area.

Tennessee's Fire Mutual Aid system is coordinating the arrival of 50 to 60 fire apparatuses from fire departments throughout the area, from as far north as Greeneville and as far south as McMinn County, TEMA said.

11 PM UPDATE: Motorists fleeing wildfires in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge packed roads in and out of the towns Monday night as flames and choking smoke driven by wind swept across the area.

Multiple parts of Gatlinburg including downtown Gatlinburg were being evacuated, fire officials said Monday night.

The town set up an evacuation shelter at the Gatlinburg Community Center at 156 Proffitt Road. An evacuation center also was set up at Rocky Top Sports World near Gatlinburg Pittman High School on Highway 321.

Some areas of Pigeon Forge also were being evacuated including residents and guests located in the areas between traffic light 8 and the Spur, according to spokeswoman Trish McGee.

"Three county school buses are available for emergency transport and are being dispatched as needed to transport those who need to evacuate," according to a statement from McGee.

Farther west, fires also were reported above Wears Valley Road near the Dollar General Store. A viewer sent 10News video of the hillside aflame.

In Gatlinburg, National Park Service and Gatlinburg officials stressed the fire posed a serious threat that would not abate until rains came.

"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. If (the public) could just stay home and stay tuned to their local media outlet," Gatlinburg Fire Chief Greg Miller said at a 8:30 p.m. press conference.

Residents in the Mynatt Park Neighborhood in Gatlinburg are being asked to voluntarily evacuate due to the threat of wildfire nearby in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Nov. 28, 2016.

In Gatlinburg, other areas under a mandatory evacuation include Mynatt Park Neighborhood, East Foothills Road, Turkey Nest Road and Davenport Road areas. The Savage Gardens areas also is under mandatory evacuation.

Police are going to the area to get people out. City officials urged everyone to get out.

Gatlinburg city officials said high winds were downing power lines, sparking multiple ground fires.

Multiple agencies were responding to the fires in Galinburg including the Knoxville Fire Department. Gatlinburg City Manager Cindy Ogle said she understood the Karns Volunteer Fire Department also was responding.

Fire officials decided about 6 p.m. to impose the evacuation, according to Ogle.

To help with Pigeon Force evacuations, three county school buses were available for emergency transport and were being dispatched as needed to transport those who need to evacuate, according to a release from

The following locations are open and ready to receive those who need shelter: LeConte Center at Pigeon Forge, Pigeon Forge Community Center, Liberty Baptist Church in Wears Valley and Iglesia Cristiana LaDuz De Jesus.

Also open for evacuations: The First Red Bank Baptist Church in Sevierville and First Baptist Church of Sevierville.

Sevier County Schools are closed Tuesday due to the fires, the school district said on its website.

Great Smoky Mountains Park Superintendent Cassius Cash said the fires posed a "very serious situation."

Authorities could not provide an estimate on the total acreage that was burning.



Residents in the Mynatt Park Neighborhood in Gatlinburg are being asked to voluntarily evacuate due to the threat of wildfire nearby in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Nov. 28, 2016. (Photo: Courtesy Nikki Arwood Cochran)

"I know that it's hard to potentially think about losing a home or a place that you've worked your entire life to build, but we are dealing with a situation that is very dynamic," Miller said. "The wind is not helping us. The rain is not here yet."

Authorities are hoping that rain expected Monday night will ultimately douse the spreading wildfires.

Starlight Farm offers refuge for large animals from Gatlinburg fire

ANY LIVESTOCK OWNERS IN THE GATLINGBURG/PIGEON FORGE FIRE'S PATH: STARLIGHT FARM ANIMAL SANCTUARY CAN PROVIDE TEMPORARY REFUGE FOR YOUR LARGE ANIMALS. Horses. Cattle. Sheep. We have pasture/water/hay available. Located one mile off TN I-40 Exit 398 (Strawberry Plains Pike exit). Contact Esther Roberts 865.607.9780. NO transport available but can provide refuge immediately. Easy access and you can drop your trailers here as well, if needed. 865.607.9780. #PrayForRain

National Weather Service Urges Evacuation of Gatlinburg and Surrounding Communities


28 November 2016

UPDATE: New Fire near Park Headquarters, More Closures. New Fire in Smokies Spurs Twin Creek & Mynatt Park Evacuations, Gatlinburg Monitoring Fires, Some Roads Closed due to Chimney 2 Fire

Park Fire Update 6:15 pm 11/28/16


Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials reported additional fire activity including the Park Headquarters area and a spot fire between Elkmont and Newfound Gap Road off of the Sugarland Mountain Trail approximately 1 mile south of the Husky Gap Trail intersection. The park has closed the Gatlinburg Bypass and Little River Road from Sugarlands Visitor Center to Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Area due to fire activity and downed trees. The park has evacuated employees from the Elkmont and Park Headquarters housing areas.

Due to continued erratic winds, the fires are very unpredictable and more fire growth is expected. Wind conditions continue to worsen with 40 mph average winds being recorded and 74 mph gusts.

The park will hold a briefing update at 7:00 p.m. at the Gatlinburg Fire Department Headquarters at 1230 East Parkway, Gatlinburg

Park Fire Update 2:00 pm 11/28/16

· The Chimney 2 fire started on Wed, Nov 23 on the north spire of the Chimney Tops. The fire was first reported at less than 2 acres and grew to 8 acres by Sat (11/26).

· A suppression area was established but due to extreme winds sustained at 20 mph and weather conditions, spot fires spread outside the containment area Sunday night. There are spot fires burning in the Chimneys Picnic area and across Newfound Gap Road on Bullhead Ridge. The size of these spot fires are unknown due to visibility issues.

· A small fire was reported at approximately 11:35 am on Mon (11/28) near the Twin Creeks Picnic Pavilion off of Cherokee Orchard Road. It is unknown if this is a spot fire from the Chimney 2 Fire or if it is an independent ignition.

Fire Personnel

· Park fire crew numbers responding to the Chimney 2 Fire have continued to increase over the course of the weekend. Currently park firefighters have been joined by firefighters from Utah and additional support resources have been ordered including an incident management team along with 4 hand crews (total of 80 people) and air support. The additional crews are expected to begin to arrive Mon (11/28) and early Tue (11/29).

· Park Service fire crews, Gatlinburg Fire Department, and Tennessee State Forestry Department have provided additional equipment and support to the fire at Twin Creeks.

· National Park Service fire crews and local fire departments are working on suppression efforts to ensure public safety and to protect facilities throughout the area.

Weather Conditions

· Fire conditions continue to change rapidly as the day continues. The park continues to experience very dry conditions with relative humidity less than 50%. As of 1:00 pm Mon (11/28) the park recorded average wind speeds of 20 mph with gusts up to 50 mph. The forecast is for wind speed to increase this afternoon. Fire growth is expected.

· Because of extreme wind conditions on Monday, air crews are unable to fly to view the fires or drop water in suppression efforts.

· Rain is forecasted for Monday evening which could aid in the suppression efforts but extreme wind gusts of up to 85 mph are being predicted for Monday night.

Safety

· Several park roads, trails, campsites and shelters are closed for safety. For a complete list of updated closures, please visit the park website.

· A maximum of 29 people were identified as potentially being in the closed backcountry area of the park. They were notified via the Backcountry Reservation’s warning system of the fire and subsequent closure. All of the backcountry shelters and campsites in the closure area are closed and all reservation holders for the upcoming week have been notified.

· Due to erratic winds, the fire is very unpredictable. State and local fire departments are working in partnership to respond as needed to potential threats to private properties along the park boundaries including Gatlinburg and Pittman Center.

· Air quality in the area has been affected and is unhealthy for the Sevier County section of the park and adjacent areas.

-NPS-
www.nps.gov/grsm
www.Facebook.com/GreatSmokyMountainsNPS
www.Twitter.com/GreatSmokyNPS
www.Instagram.com/GreatSmokyNPS

Great Smoky Mountains National Park received notice of a fire 150 yards behind the Twin Creek Picnic Pavilion off Cherokee Orchard Road at approximately 11:35 a.m. today, Nov. 28. National Park Service firefighters and the Gatlinburg Fire Department have responded to the area. The Tennessee Division of Forestry is also responding to the area to stage equipment for use as needed. All non-fire park service personnel have been evacuated from the nearby Twin Creeks Science Center as a precaution.

At this point, it is unknown if the fire near Twin Creeks is a spot fire associated with the Chimney 2 Fire or if it is an independent ignition. Due to continued erratic winds, the fires are very unpredictable and more fire growth is expected. State and local fire departments have been alerted to respond as needed to potential threats to private properties along the park boundaries including Gatlinburg and Pittman Center.

The park will hold an update on all park fire activity at 2:00 pm at the Park Headquarters building. For a complete list of road, trail, campsite and shelter closures, please visit the park website.

-NPS-
www.nps.gov/grsm
www.Facebook.com/GreatSmokyMountainsNPS
www.Twitter.com/GreatSmokyNPS
www.Instagram.com/GreatSmokyNPS

Twin Creeks Fire Evacuation

A press release from the City of Gatlinburg stated that Gatlinburg Fire officials reported a spot fire in the Twin Creeks area of the national park that, combined with the low humidity and the windy conditions, have created a threat to the Mynatt Park Neighborhood. The Fire Department is making preparations to protect the Mynatt Neighborhood. Gatlinburg Police Officers are going door to door asking residents to voluntarily evacuate to the Red Cross Evacuation Shelter set up at the at the Gatlinburg Community Center located at 156 Proffitt Road. Residents needing transportation to the shelter may request assistance by calling from 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.

The National Park Service issued an Air Quality Advisory in effect for November 28, due to smoke. Concentrations of particulate matter from smoke along with the strong winds from the south has exceeded the human health standard and is expected to remain at these levels today for park visitors and staff. Active children and adults, and people with respiratory and pulmonary disease are at risk. People should refrain from strenuous or prolonged physical outdoor activities and limit exposure.

The Gatlinburg Fire Department will continue to monitor the situation. City and National Park Service officials will hold a briefing at 4:00pm at Fire Department Headquarters at 1230 East Parkway, Gatlinburg.

--Marci Claude, Gatlinburg Convention and Visitors Bureau

Air Quality Advisory Issued

Earlier today, the NPS issued an Air Quality Advisory due to the fires.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials have issued an air quality advisory. The air quality today is unhealthy for the Sevier County section of the park and adjacent areas, especially in the Gatlinburg area due to heavy smoke from the nearby Chimney 2 Fire.

Concentrations of particulate matter from smoke along with the strong winds from the south has exceeded the human health standard and is expected to remain at these levels today for park visitors and staff. Active children and adults, and people with respiratory and pulmonary disease are at risk. People should refrain from strenuous or prolonged physical outdoor activities and limit exposure.

The fire currently poses no immediate threat to structures at LeConte Lodge or any areas outside of park boundaries including Gatlinburg, Pittman Center, or Cosby facilities.

Park Closes Roads and Trails due to Chimney 2 Fire

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials have closed Newfound Gap Road, Cherokee Orchard Road, Elkmont Road, and several trails due to the Chimney 2 Fire. The fire has grown to approximately 500 acres in size overnight due to extreme, sustained winds over 20 mph. National Park Service fire crews are focusing on suppression efforts to ensure public safety and protect park facilities at locations such as Chimneys Picnic Area.

The fire is currently moving northeast, burning primarily along the ground layer through duff and leaf litter. Gusting winds have caused the fire to spot across the ridges in the Chimney Tops and Bullhead Ridge areas. On Sunday, November 27, three helicopters dropped water throughout the area to help suppress the fire over the extremely steep, rough terrain. Additional ground firefighters were also requested to help with suppression efforts in anticipation of predicted winds for Monday afternoon.

Backcountry areas are unsafe for travel and the following trails and backcountry campsites are currently closed until further notice. Closed Backcountry Trails 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 trails. Closed Backcountry Campsites include 21, 23, 24, 26, 27, 30, 31, 32, Mt. Le Conte shelter, and Mt. Collins shelter.

The cause of the fire near Chimney Tops appears to be human caused and is under investigation. If anyone has information regarding the origin of this fire, or other fires in the park, please call the park’s Tip Line at 865-436-1580.