GATLINBURG, Tenn. — A calamitous and deadly wildfire engulfed two tourist towns near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, along with much of the surrounding timberlands, destroying more than 150 homes and businesses, displacing thousands of residents and visitors and shutting down one of the nation’s most popular natural attractions.
The fire has killed at least three people and injured at least 14 others, officials said Tuesday. The victims have not yet been identified.
Search and rescue efforts were underway throughout Sevier County as dusk arrived in the charred, smoke-choked mountains, but some areas remained unreachable, authorities said late Tuesday afternoon.
The blaze forced more than 14,000 people to flee the area and left “in excess of 150″ buildings in ruin, officials said.
“People were basically running for their lives,” Gatlinburg Mayor Mike Werner said at a Tuesday afternoon news conference.
The “unprecedented” fire — which started on the Chimney Tops mountain, one of the most popular hiking destinations in the Smokies — was still burning Tuesday afternoon, emergency officials said. Strong winds and dry ground had carried the flames into the resort towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, moving too fast and too far to contain.
“This is a fire for the history books,” Gatlinburg Fire Chief Greg Miller said at a news conference Tuesday….