Wildfires force evacuations in Tennessee resort towns

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Nov 28 (Reuters) - Wildfires threatened homes and businesses in two small Tennessee resort towns north of the Great Smoky Mountains, forcing residents and visitors to flee on Monday, officials said.

Mandatory evacuations were ordered for Gatlinburg and parts of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, where strong winds and drought stoked fires in the area, the National Weather Service said in an advisory.

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"These are the worst possible conditions imaginable," Gatlinburg Fire Department Chief Greg Miller told reporters, according to the Tennessean newspaper.

The nearby Chimney 2 Fire quickly grew from about 10 acres on Sunday evening to about 500 acres on Monday as wind gusts reached 75 mph (120 kph) in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Conditions also sparked another fire south of Gatlinburg on Monday, Wildfiretoday.com reported.

No fatalities were reported. One man suffered burns and several injuries were reported after a fire truck crash, Tennessee Emergency Management Agency said in a statement.

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November wildfires in the South
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November wildfires in the South
Assistant Chief Brent Masey, of the Highway 58 Fire Department in Harrison, Tenn., looks up as a helicopter carrying fire retardant flies over as Masey keeps watch on a wildfire Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016, in Soddy-Daisy, Tenn. Federal authorities say warmer-than-average temperatures and no rainfall are deepening a drought that's sparking forest fires across the Southeastern U.S. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Firefighters walk down a dirt road a wildfire burns a hillside Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016, in Clayton, Ga. On Tuesday, the Tennessee Valley Authority issued a burn ban on its public lands across Tennessee and in parts of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina and Virginia. U.S. Forest Service spokesman Adam Rondeau has said the agency is tracking wildfires that have burned a total of 80,000 acres across the South. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
A haze hovers over the downtown skyline from a wildfire burning in the Northwest part of the state, Monday, Nov. 14, 2016, in Atlanta. Fires, many of them suspected arsons, have prompted evacuations in Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee recently. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
In this Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016 photo, firefighters Valarie Lopez, left, and Mark Tabaez work to cool hot spots after a wildfire burned a hillside in Clayton, Ga. More than 5,000 firefighters and support personnel, including many veterans of wildfires in the arid West, and 24 helicopters are reinforcing local crews in the fire zone, which has spread from northern Georgia and eastern Tennessee into eastern Kentucky, the western Carolinas and parts of surrounding states.(AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Firefighter Kevin Zimmer works to control a wildfire Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016, in Clayton, Ga. On Tuesday, the Tennessee Valley Authority issued a burn ban on its public lands across Tennessee and in parts of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina and Virginia. U.S. Forest Service spokesman Adam Rondeau has said the agency is tracking wildfires that have burned a total of 80,000 acres across the South. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
A wildfire smolders after burning a hillside Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016, in Clayton, Ga. On Tuesday, the Tennessee Valley Authority issued a burn ban on its public lands across Tennessee and in parts of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina and Virginia. U.S. Forest Service spokesman Adam Rondeau has said the agency is tracking wildfires that have burned a total of 80,000 acres across the South. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
A firefighter battles a wildfire Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016, in Clayton, Ga. On Tuesday, the Tennessee Valley Authority issued a burn ban on its public lands across Tennessee and in parts of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina and Virginia. U.S. Forest Service spokesman Adam Rondeau has said the agency is tracking wildfires that have burned a total of 80,000 acres across the South. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
A firefighting helicopter fills its water tanks over Lake Lure on Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2016 as firefighters battle the Party Rock fire near Lake Lure and Chimney Rock in North Carolina. (Jill Knight/Raleigh News & Observer/TNS via Getty Images)
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A total of 1,200 people were in two area shelters, officials said.


Heavy smoke and an orange sky hung over downtown Gatlinburg where nearby roads were packed with motorists trying to get out of town. Downed power lines and fallen trees sparked several smaller fires, media reported.

Some 30 buildings including a 16-story hotel and an apartment were on fire in Gatlinburg on Monday night, the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency said. About 100 homes were impacted, Sevier County officials said.

About 7 miles (10 km) north, parts of Pigeon Forge were also evacuated, including Dollywood, a resort and theme park owned by entertainer Dolly Parton. No Dollywood structures were threatened, a spokesman for the resort told a local NBC affiliate.

"Fire was coming over the mountains, and the smoke was so bad we could barely breathe as we were trying to pack up," Mike Gill told NBC News as he was leaving the area with his wife. "The traffic is horrible. It's a mass exodus." (Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Nick Macfie and Kim Coghill)

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