Mandatory evacuations are under way in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, after wildfires set many houses and a hotel ablaze, BBC reports. The fires also threatened Dollywood, a theme park owned by the county music icon and actress Dolly Parton, and an aquarium housing thousands of animals.
There are fears that a storm system approaching the area will fan the flames, and that the forecast rain will not be enough to quell them. Several southern states are battling wildfires after months of drought. The wildfires, in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, are reportedly growing increasingly unpredictable and dangerous.
The Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge has evacuated guests from some of its properties, but so far no structures have been damaged, a spokesperson said. The Great Smoky Mountain national park sent out warnings on social media to avoid the area.
There is concern for more than 10,000 animals at an aquarium in Gatlinburg after all employees were evacuated. The building is still standing, but “workers are anxious to return to check on the animals”, the general manager of Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, Ryan DeSears told local media.
Facebook has activated its safety check feature. A new storm system is predicted to bring high winds, which authorities say could topple dead trees and could pose a threat to firefighters. But the rainfall due to come with the weather system is not expected to end the drought.
“It’s way too early to say ‘Yes, this drought is over,'” said Mark Svoboda, director of the National Drought Mitigation Center in Nebraska. “Does it put a dent in it? Yes, but we have a long ways to go.”
Neighbouring Georgia as well as North and South Carolina are battling wildfires too.