By J.G. Noll

National Guard fights Tennessee fires and aids evacuees
Photo: Twitter, @kimhestertn

Working in tandem with state and local emergency responders, the Tennessee National Guard has been activated in the wake of a devastating fire that has rampaged tourist destinations Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. At least four of the McGhee-Tyson Battalion’s Blackhawk helicopters have been dropping water and assisting with search and rescue operations in the area. Earlier in November, the National Guard worked to safeguard Chattanooga from wildfires in the area.

Areas of Sevier County, Tennessee were evacuated late Monday night. Nearly 14,000 Gatlinburg residents and visitors were evacuated as firefighters worked to keep the fires in the Smoky Mountains at bay.

The destruction is extensive with three fatalities and 12 injuries reported so far. Approximately 12,000 people are without power and 29 backcountry hikers were rescued from the Smoky Mountains. However, Gatlinburg has sustained the most damage in the area. According to the Chicago Tribune, “hundreds of homes and other buildings, including a 16-story hotel, were damaged or destroyed by flames. And preliminary surveys indicated that Westgate Resorts, with more than 100 buildings, and Ober Gatlinburg were both likely destroyed.”

While rain has been falling in some areas in Tennessee, the ongoing drought has created a tinderbox in Southern states, including Tennessee. Other wildfires are raging in Georgia and North Carolina as well. Southern states are 10 t0 15 inches below their normal rainfall totals for the year.