Rip­ken Base­ball mon­i­tors blaze near Tenn. fa­cil­ity

Its new $22.5M youth com­plex is about one mile from deadly fires

Baltimore Sun - - NATION - By Sean Welsh and Car­rie Wells The As­so­ci­ated Press con­trib­uted to this ar­ti­cle.

Staff at Bal­ti­more-based Rip­ken Base­ball are keep­ing an eye on the wild­fires near Gatlin­burg, Tenn., that killed three peo­ple and caused the evac­u­a­tion of thousands of res­i­dents and busi­nesses this week.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion op­er­ates a large youth base­ball com­plex in Pi­geon Forge, about a mile from where a fire was rag­ing Tues­day in the foothills of the Great Smoky Moun­tains.

A Rip­ken Base­ball spokesman said Tues­day the fires hadn’t af­fected the Rip­ken Ex­pe­ri­ence Pi­geon Forge.

The U.S. For­est Ser­vice has set up a com­mand post on the prop­erty as part of the fire­fight­ing ef­fort, said spokesman John Ma­roon.

David Bounds, the gen­eral man­ager of the com­plex in Pi­geon Forge, said that while they could see flames, the fire was in a more de­vel­oped area and he was con­fi­dent the com­plex would be safe, par­tic­u­larly with the U.S. For­est Ser­vice’s help.

Three peo­ple have been killed in the wild­fires, and Bounds said his staff was “heart­bro­ken.”

“We feel very for­tu­nate and blessed,” he said. “Our staff here, ev­ery­one’s safe and ac­counted for. Ev­ery­one’s homes are in­tact. It’s a lit­tle sur­real to know that there are in­di­vid­u­als who have lost loved ones and homes and busi­nesses.”

Rip­ken Base­ball built and opened the Pi­geon Forge com­plex in 2015, not far from Dol­ly­wood, a theme park and re­sort. The $22.5 mil­lion com­plex fea­tures six syn­thetic fields with lights, built to host clin­ics and youth tour­na­ments — sim­i­lar to the Rip­ken youth base­ball and soft­ball com­plexes in Aberdeen and Myr­tle Beach, S.C.

“Our new­est fa­cil­ity in Pi­geon Forge fea­tures all of the big league ameni­ties that teams have come to ex­pect,” ac­cord­ing to a de­scrip­tion on Rip­kenBase­ball.com.

The prop­erty is on Jake Thomas Boule­vard, which in­ter­sects with U.S. 441, a ma­jor high­way that leads be­tween Pi­geon Forge, Gatlin­burg and the Smoky Moun­tains.

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