Wildfires devastate Gatlinburg and Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Courtesy NPS Photo

Visitors to Great Smoky Mountains National Park view one of the many wildfires burning in the park. High winds and drought conditions have caused wildfires to consume parkland and to endanger people in nearby Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge (home to Dollywood).

Wildfires have devastated some of Tennessee’s most popular travel destinations.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is closed due to the intense and unpredictable fires, which are the result of what firefighters are characterizing as a “perfect storm” of drought and high winds gusting up to 70 mph. The town of Gatlinburg has been evacuated, with approximately 14,000 people hitting the road ahead of flames and dangerously thick smoke; residents and visitors in Pigeon Forge, home to the Dollywood theme park, are also leaving the area. At Dollywood, staff evacuated park cabins and the DreamMore Resort, with local county school buses providing emergency transportation.

My colleague Laura Brown, Senior Product Manager, Advertising, at Lonely Planet USA and Budget Travel, went to college in east Tennessee and provided some firsthand insight into what this fire feels like: “To watch the news about the fire is heartbreaking - not just the devastation to Gatlinburg, which is a gem on its own, but the fire tore through some of my favorite trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Those trails feel like friends.”

The situation is evolving, and the only certainty at press time is that the damage to Great Smoky Mountains National Park and to downtown Gatlinburg, two places that are dear to Budget Travelers across the U.S., is severe. The most recent reports are that Gatlinburg has lost around 150 buildings to fire, with some additional structures still burning. We’ll learn more about the state of Great Smoky Mountains National Park from park rangers in the near future, and we urge fans of the park to bear in mind that fire is a natural part of the resilient forest ecosystem.

If you’d like to help evacuees, Tennessean.com, the website of The Tennessean newspaper, has published the following ways to donate:

* Yassin's Falafel House is collecting cases of water and Gatorade in the public parking lot adjacent to 706 Walnut Street in downtown Knoxville from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. [Tuesday November 29] or until the truck is full.

* Barker Lounge at 1301 Main Street in Sevierville and Blount County Animal Control at 233 Currie Avenue in Maryville are taking displaced animals and need animal related supplies including food and crates.

* The Knoxville Expo Center is accepting donations at 5441 Clinton Hwy, Knoxville, TN 37912

* TheYMCA in East Tennessee is accepting donations at all locations.

* Remote Area Medical is accepting donations at is headquarters at 2220 Stock Creek Boulevard in Rockford.

* Lafollette Church of God at 1906 Jacksboro Pike, LaFollette, is accepting food and water donations.

* Blount Partnership, at 201 S. Washington Street in Maryville and Townsend Visitors Center at 7906 E. Lamar Alexander Parkway are accepting donations for water and food for animals and more.

* Christ the Rock Church of God is collecting food and water donations at 4306 Washington Pike in Knoxville.

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