Amateur Radio volunteers are providing communication support to American Red Cross shelters in Sevier County, Tennessee. Wind-driven flames and embers from the Chimney Top Fire in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, now closed, spread on Monday to threaten the communities of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge in East Tennessee. Authorities have closed Highway 441 into Gatlinburg, although it remains open only to emergency traffic and outbound evacuation traffic. Media reports indicate that fire caused considerable destruction in Gatlinburg, a resort community that attracts thousands of visitors throughout the year. At peak, an estimated 1,300 evacuees occupied six Red Cross or independently operated shelters, state authorities said, although that number now is reported to have declined somewhat.
“At this point, no additional Amateur Radio support has been requested,” ARRL Tennessee Section Manager Keith Miller, N9DGK, said on Tuesday evening. “Members of nearby ARES® groups should remain aware of the potential for this situation to change rapidly.”
Miller said all requests for additional communication support will come from the State of Tennessee and local served agencies — or through the ARES chain of command.
“Do not self-deploy,” Miller stressed. “If you show up uninvited, you will be sent home.
The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) said Tuesday evening that “many fires” are still burning in Sevier County, and the situation there remains dangerous. City of Gatlinburg officials instituted a 6 PM to 6 AM curfew, and the city remains under a mandatory evacuation order. TEMA has activated the State Emergency Operations Center in Nashville.
In Pigeon Forge — home to the Dollywood theme park — officials estimate that 500 residents and visitors were evacuated on Monday, and some 125 people remain in shelters there.
“State agencies and local officials likely evacuated thousands residents and visitors from Sevier County last night [Tuesday], due to devastating wildfires in and around the cities of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge,” TEMA said in its last November 29 update. “It is very likely that 14,000+ residents and visitors evacuated from Gatlinburg alone.”
Sevier County officials say three people have died and 14 were injured as a result of the fire emergency. Gatlinburg’s fire chief said he believes the death toll will climb. Some 10,700 residents were without power as of Tuesday evening.