So often we hear the phrase “perfect storm.” I can’t remember exactly where I first heard it, but it gets so over-used these days that it really doesn’t raise eyebrows anymore. Until you consider the situation in the Smokies and the surrounding areas. In those areas, “perfect storm” is a dramatic understatement that describes the disastrous situation in northern parts of the park near Gatlinburg in the past 24 hours. The combination of extremely high winds (over 85 mph) and ultra-dry conditions (no rain since early July) caused an explosive eruption of wildfires in the Smokies and the Gatlinburg area.
I’ll leave it to the news outlets to report the news, but I thought I’d share a couple of items that I heard this evening on local TV. A 500-acre fire in the Chimney’s area of the Smokies ballooned to more than 15,000 acres overnight, spreading embers miles away and causing numerous spot fires. Three people were killed in the county surrounding Gatlinburg and several more were injured. Numerous houses and businesses burned overnight. Most of this damage was limited to the outskirts of Gatlinburg. Thousands of residents and visitors to the area have been displaced. The main downtown area of Gatlinburg and the historic structures in the park don’t appear to have been affected. The entire Great Smoky Mountains National Park is closed. Tonight, the area is expected to experience high winds again. Not as bad as last night, but still strong enough to cause concerns about fires that continue to smolder. We’re also expected to receive more rain in the early morning hours overnight and in to tomorrow.
This is a really big deal and it will take time to determine the extent of the damage. It’s really sad to think about the impact on the people, the towns, the wildlife, the trees, and the rest of the park. Here in Knoxville, we are OK. We are all hoping that the Smokies and Gatlinburg get through the night OK and that the rain helps bring the fires under control. A long recovery certainly awaits the people, the area, and the park.
I’m in the process of locating a way to donate to the Red Cross or other organizations in order to help the area. I encourage you to do the same!