Updated: 9:00 A.M. 12/2/2016A wildfire that originated deep in the backcountry of Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) recently spread into Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and other parts of Sevier County in far eastern Tennessee—destroying more than 400 structures, many of them homes, and forcing the evacuation of thousands of residents.The fire came during one of the worst droughts the Southeast has seen in decades. Even as rain began to fall near Gatlinburg and other parts of the drought effected Southeast Tuesday morning, many of the of the fires in east Tennessee continued to burn, though the worst now appears to be over.The rapid acceleration of the Tennessee wildfires that caused so much destruction on the night of Monday, November 28th was brought about by extreme winds, some recorded gusts reaching 87 mph.The wind caused the fire to spread quickly and unpredictably, allowing residents and evacuees little to no warning of the impending flames.Gatlinburg mayor Mike Werner, who lost his home in the blaze, told CNN that “people were basically running for their lives.”“When you see the fire it is a scary thing to see,” he said.According to the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency as many as 14,000 residents were evacuated in Gatlinburg alone.Much of the destruction was captured by residents with cell phone cameras, including the video below, which shows guests being cornered by flames inside the 16-story Park Vista Hotel in downtown Gatlinburg.As of now, eleven deaths have been reported, and at least a dozen people were taken to area hospitals. National Guard troops have been called in to aid overwhelmed fire fighters.The National Park Service announced on Twitter, that all facilities within GSMNP are closed “due to the extensive fire activity, and downed trees.”Stay tuned as we continue to update this developing tragedy in Eastern Tennessee.How You Can HelpClick here to donate to a relief fund set up by the Great Smoky Mountains Association for National Park Service employees and other employees of GSMNP effected by the fires.Kroger supermarkets in East and Middle Tennessee, northern Alabama and southern Kentucky are partnering with the Red Cross to collect money to provide aid to those affected by the fires.Remote Area Medical will take Gatorade and water to LeConte Medical Center and volunteer fire departments today. Deliver to RAM headquarters, 2200 Stock Creek Boulevard in Rockford, TN. RAM will pick up large donations; call 865-579-1530.The American Red Cross is always accepting donations. You can donate online or sign up via the website to volunteer after the fires. Because today is ‘Giving Tuesday‘, the Red Cross will match any donation up to $50,000.Click here for a more comprehensive list of ways you can donate time or money to those effected by the Sevier County fires.
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