The Great Smoky Mountains

The+Great+Smoky+Mountains

Jonathan Coombs

The Great Smoky Mountains

Monday night embers from a wildfire on Chimney Tops Trail in Great Smoky Mountain

National Park blew into the Gatlinburg area, igniting what has turned into a devastating wildfire.

This fire has left hundreds of homes and businesses significantly damaged or completely

destroyed. So far officials have confirmed seven deaths as of Wednesday, but many are still

worried about additional fatalities because several people are still missing. Debris and downed

power lines has limited authorities' abilities to continue searching. Several officials have said that

the area is fortunate that the inferno didn’t occur over Thanksgiving weekend when the number

of visitors would have been higher.

The fire is bulldozing through Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, but officials are saying the

fire wasn't all encompassing. Several iconic buildings, homes, and churches were destroyed,

including Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort & Spa, which has more than 100 buildings. But

Dollywood, the theme park of Dolly Parton, was spared significant damage and is said to reopen

Friday. Ober Gatlinburg ski resort and Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies both stated that their

buildings and animals are OK.

Unfortunately, the rain received over Tuesday and Wednesday is said to likely not be

enough to penetrate the piles of dry leaves and brush that have accumulated in the forest through

the years. Eight new fires already have started and are blowing embers between Tuesday and

Wednesday. Flash flooding has also considered a threat since the water will have a difficult time

soaking into the parched ground.

Even though Gatlinburg has been the most destructive fire as of Wednesday, there are

actually 19 wildfires currently burning across six Southeast states, according to the U.S. Forest

service.

Officials have estimated that the fires have destroyed more than 15,000 acres of forest in

the Great Smoky Mountains alone.