Wildfires force evacuations in Tennessee resort towns

November 29, 2016 1:40 AM EST

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(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.

"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.

Heavy smoke and a 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 were on fire in Gatlinburg on Monday night, the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency 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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