Fire engulfs one of Tennessee’s most treasured towns  Photo courtesy: Darlene Verito Verito/Screenshot
Photo courtesy: Darlene Verito Verito/Screenshot

The news footage is frightening as out-of-control wildfires rip through the eastern part of Tennessee and northern Georgia. The area includes the mountain resort towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee — the home of Dolly Parton’s Dollywood Theme Park.

Gatlinburg, known for it’s natural beauty and diverse family activities, along with being a destination wedding spot and a popular weekend getaway for Nashville residents, has been mostly evacuated. Amateur video footage shows hotel lobbies filled with smoke as guests vacate the premises and fire surrounding the area once they are outside. The Blue Ridge Mountain town’s residents have also captured extreme video as they make their way down from their homes in the foothills and mountains, weaving in and out of the raging fire. This before and after photo speaks for itself:

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The local Knoxville Fox affiliate, WBIR, spoke with one family who narrowly escaped the fire as they watched their backyard go up in flames, then felt the heat of the flames from inside their car as they made their way to safety.

Attractions in the area, including the beautiful national park, are closed to the public as firefighters battle this raging inferno. While, as of Nov. 29, popular tourist spot Ober Gatlinburg was safe, Dolly Parton’s Dollywood Theme Park, which annually hosts the holiday extravaganza Smoky Mountain Christmas, is under threat from this fast wildfire. WBIR reports that so far no Dollywood structures have been damaged, but they do have fire crews stationed in the park to attempt to fend off any possible destruction.

Sadly, Gatlinburg’s Ripley’s Aquarium may not be so fortunate. Although staff was safely evacuated from the popular tourist spot, thousands of animals have been left behind. Generators are in place to keep the facility operable and as of the most recent reports, the building is still standing.

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Extreme winds hampered firefighting efforts Nov. 28, but a thunderstorm that swept the mountain side later that evening did offer some respite, although the fire still rages.

The east Tennessee area is also the home of Kenny Chesney, Kelsea Ballerini, Rodney Atkins, Ashley Monroe and Dave Barnes.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the many families affected by this devastating event and to the firefighters and other first responders called to action.

Based in Nashville, Tammy is a 20-year veteran of the country music community. She has worked in marketing, PR and artist development. Follow her @TammyGooGoo and join the conversation @RareCountry
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