Raging wildfires force tourists from popular Tennessee attractions

As emergency crews in Tennessee continue to evacuate residents and tourists affected by wildfires in the Great Smoky Mountain area, hospitality officials say it may be too early to assess the long term damage to the Southern town's thriving tourism industry.

The main concern now, says Greg Adkins, CEO of the Tennessee Hospitality & Tourism Association, is the welfare of all in the Gatlinburg area.

"We are doing several things for our Gatlinburg friends including our Together We Prepare program," Adkins told FoxNews.com. Together We Prepapre is an American Red Cross natural distaser relief initiative. Adkins would not specify details on the association's involvement in the program.

What travelers need to know now:

Downtown Gatlinburg

According to the Gatlinburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, the city sees over 11 million visitors annually. In addition to dozens of shops and restaurants, the family friendly tourist mecca boasts a water park, ropes courses, ziplines and museums. Over 14,000 have been evacuated as of Tuesday morning and the immediate future of some of those attractions remains uncertain as the wildfires continues.


On Monday, employees at Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies were  evacuated. They were forced to behind over 10,5000 animals housed in the facility. Ryan DeSears, general manager of Ripley's, told WBIR-TV the building was still standing and all workers had been evacuated late Monday. However, he said workers were anxious to return to check on the well-being of all the animals and fish inside.

The wildfires have affected at least 250 structures in Tennessee, including the 16-story Park Vista Hotel. Guests trapped inside posted videos and photos online of flames engulfing the parking lot.

Other popular tourist destinations under evacuation orders are the city of Gatlinburg, where tennessean.com reported at least 150 homes and businesses have been destroyed, and large parts of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

"This is one for the history books," Gatlinburg Fire Chief Greg Miller said at a morning news conference. "The likes of this has never been seen. But the worst is definitely over with."

Miller said there were 14 buildings still on fire in Gatlinburg Tuesday afternoon. He said there were no reports of missing persons, but firefighters were going door-to-door to make sure everyone in the city had a safe evacuation plan.

Local officials also ordered mandatory evacuations for Mynatt Park, Park Vista and Ski Mountain, tennessean.com reported.

Pigeon Forge

Pigeon Forge, Tenn.—about 20 minutes north of Gatlinburg—is home to Dolly Parton’s eponymous Dollywood theme park. On Monday night, guest cabins were evacuated and the park was cleared. As of Tuesday, the wildfires had not yet reached any property inside the popular theme park but a representative for the park told FoxNews.com that no injuries have been reported.

In a statement released to FoxNews.com, the country music superstar expressed that she was praying all affected by the ongoing wildfires.

"I have been watching the terrible fires in the Great Smoky Mountains and I am heartbroken.  I am praying for all the families affected by the fire and the firefighters who are working so hard to keep everyone safe," Parton said. "It is a blessing that my Dollywood theme park, the DreamMore Resort and so many businesses in Pigeon Forge have been spared."

Parton recently appeared in a 30-second PSA with Smokey the Bear released Sunday by Great Smoky Mountains National Park. She warns visitors to avoid burning leaves and parking vehicles on dry grass, and warns that even a campfire can spark a wildfire.


Dollywood has suspended park operations through Wednesday. Its nearby DreamMore resort will be open on a limited basis as a shelter for registered guests.

Great Smoky Mountains

On Tuesday, the National Park Service issued an alert, notifying visitors that all park facilities had closed.

“Park officials have closed all facilities in the park due to the extensive fire activity, and downed trees. Park Headquarters is currently without power and phone services.” Park service officials had already closed many trails Monday due to the wildfires.

The National Park Service said the fire was expected to worsen and that it had closed several roads, including U.S. Highway 441 from Gatlinburg to Cherokee, N.C. The highway runs through the center of the park, near Clingman’s Dome, the 6,643-foot mountain that is the highest point in Tennessee and the third highest mountain east of the Mississippi River.

Parts of the 469-mile-long Blue Ridge Parkway, which extends from the southern end of Shenandoah National Park’s Skyline Drive in Virginia to Cherokee, were also closed.

Rain had begun to fall in some areas, but experts predicted it would not be enough to end the relentless drought that has spread across several Southern states and provided fuel for fires now burning for weeks in states including Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.