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UPDATE: Death Toll in Smoky Mountains Wildfire Rises to 11; Scores Missing; Gatlinburg Nearly Burned to the Ground

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The Great Smoky Mountains is living up to its name as clouds of devastating smoke have hung over the resort town of Gatlinburg, adjacent to the mountain range, which has burned nearly to the ground in a freak wildfire that left eleven dead and scores missing.

The late season firestorm, that from all accounts is likely to be human-caused and not lightening strikes, has displaced nearly 14,000 residents, decimated neighborhoods, burned through 15,000 acres and destroyed nearly 700 homes and businesses most of them in the town of Gatlinburg.

Raw footage from many escaping residents show the intensity of the flames on both sides of the road and winds fanning the flames and whipping the embers into fires bombs slamming into the wind shield of the truck.

Winds in excess of 90mhp are being blamed for the Monday's initial blaze that marched 10 miles up the mountain in less than 15minutes, and into Gatlinburg, from where the wind deposited the ember that it carried from a mountain top fire.

Gatlinburg, is a resort heavy tourist town and The Great Smoky Mountains, one of the most visited National Parks in the U.S, was consumed. Dollywood, the theme park owned and operated by Country music star, Dolly Parton was spared and will reopen later in the week.

Tourists, residents, and newlyweds, who had hours before stood in blissful joy, watched, with terror, hypnotized, as the flames in the distance burned, almost majestically, without concern as wild raging consuming wildfires aren't common in this area of the state.

The Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort and Spa, went from Mountain hideaway to the "the Gates of Hell" in a matter of hours as residents and guests of the Gatlinburg Tenn. property were forced to evacuate all buildings.

Residents were awakened as fire officials moved door to door, Monday night, as the fire raged. People are fleeing with only the clothes on their backs, looking back to see the flames consume their homes.

As common as wildfires are in the Western United States, the Eastern Smoky Mountains have seen little wildfire activity. The quick spreading fire destroyed nearly everything in its path as it moved down the mountain.

The blustery nights have created an even bigger problem of containment as the winds carry the tiny embers to dry patches and a new fire starts. By Wednesday 19 fires, across six states all within the Great Smoky Mountain U.S. National Park had started from the original single fire Monday night. 

Image from www.visitmysmokies.com and used with permission.

This is a developing story.

 

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