Wildfires have raged across 500 acres of land inside Tennessee's Great Smoky Mountains National Park Tuesday morning, forcing visitors of the famous Dollywood theme park to evacuate.
Dolly Parton’s namesake amusement park has not been damaged by flames, but the fire was close to the grounds in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
Dollywood was decorated for the Christmas festivities but the holiday spirit was quickly dampened as visitors were forced to flee. Some used the tourist trolley to get to safety.
The “Jolene” singer is “heartbroken” over what happened.
In a statement on her website, Parton said: “I have been watching the terrible fires in the Great Smoky Mountains and I am heartbroken. I am praying for all the families affected by the fire and the firefighters who are working so hard to keep everyone safe. It is a blessing that my Dollywood theme park, the DreamMore Resort and so many businesses in Pigeon Forge have been spared.”
Ironically, Parton shot a fire safety PSA three days earlier, not thinking her own resort would be under threat so quickly.
A family that lives in the area fled the fires. In a video of the escape, they can be heard saying: “Everything is burning around us. Every cabin. Everything. Almost every chalet and cabin village is burning! Please lord! Let us get off this mountain.”
The family was able to make it out as the fire raged across the area’s main highways and burned a popular roadside restaurant to the ground.
A woman fleeing in her car could feel the intense heat from the flames, which appeared to be just several feet away.
“This is so close to the resort. So close to... Oh my God. It's so hot,” she said in a video she recorded.
The Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies was evacuated during the wildfires that ravaged Tennessee Tuesday morning, and the facility was forced to leave more than 10,000 creatures behind, from sharks to penguins.
Aquarium staff at the Gatlinburg attraction says the animals are safe.
“The animals are fine. Life support is working great. We are very positive moving forward we are not going to have any issues,” a spokesperson for the aquarium said.
Ryan DeSears, the general manager of the aquarium, told WBIR-TV that the animals should continue to be fine as long as the building has power and doesn’t catch fire.
Hundreds of residents were trapped inside a Hilton Hotel in Gatlinburg.
The fire began Monday night but spread quickly after wind gusts of 87 miles per hour blew through the area spreading the flames.
Cabins on the hillsides burned to the ground and a rainstorm began during the fire, which saved many homes, but others were not as fortunate.
Gatlinburg Fire Chief Greg Miller says 12 people have been injured in the wildfires.
Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters said as of Tuesday afternoon three people have perished because of the massive blaze. The mayor is said to be going door-to-door to make sure everyone in the area is safe.