Wildfires are raging through much of the scenic Great Smoky Mountains are coming close to the Dollywood theme park. The flames have already destroyed a resort, while thousands of people have fled their homes and businesses. The National Guard arrived in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, today as strong winds have enlivened the flames that have spread through several states. Weather forecasters say that the small amount of rain that fell over the weekend will do little to quell the blazes. A relentless drought has spread across the South, providing fertile ground for wildfires in Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee.

High winds blew trees into power lines, causing new fires and spreading flying embers. In a press conference today, Gatlinburg Fire Chief Greg Miller said, "There were times last night that we had wind gusts in excess of 87 miles an hour. That is hurricane force. That is nowhere to be when trying to fight a fire." A 16-storey hotel and hundreds of homes, businesses, and buildings have been damaged or destroyed.

Evacuations have been ordered for Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge and other areas of Sevier County, Tennessee. From Gatlinburg alone, at least 14,000 residents and visitors have been evacuated. No deaths have been reported, but approximately 12 people have been hospitalized. Some were burned. There have been no reports of missing people.

At Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, staff was evacuated and left behind the thousands of fish and animals there. The building appears intact for now.

Dollywood is a well-known tourist attraction located near Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. The town is the birthplace of famous country music singer Dolly Parton, the owner and founder of the resort. Dollywood has announced that it has suspended operations.

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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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