Wild­fire death toll rises to 7

Storms bring rain but also tor­na­does, killing 5 in South­east

Baltimore Sun - - NATION - By Jenny Jarvie

AT­LANTA— Search-an­dres­cue teams con­tin­ued Wed­nes­day to scour the charred hills and ridges around the moun­tain re­sort town of Gatlin­burg, Tenn., after wild­fires fu­eled by se­vere winds roared through the eastern part of the state.

As the death toll climbed to seven Wed­nes­day, hot spots con­tin­ued to blaze around the quaint Ap­palachian tourism cen­ter that at­tracts 11 mil­lion peo­ple a year. Res­i­dents and visi­tors re­mained un­der a manda­tory evac­u­a­tion or­der after more than 250 homes, va­ca­tion cab­ins, mo­tels and busi­nesses were re­duced to rub­ble.

Se­vier County Mayor Larry Wa­ters said they had found three peo­ple who had been trapped since the fires started spread­ing wildly in high winds on Mon­daynight. The mayor said the three were OK.

“That is some good, pos­i­tive news for a change,” he said.

While overnight storms dropped long-awaited rain early Wed­nes­day, help­ing to douse the parched, fire-rav­aged land­scape, they also brought a risk of flood­ing. On Wed­nes­day­morn­ing, the Na­tional Weather Ser­vice is­sued an ur­ban and small stream flood ad­vi­sory for Gatlin­burg and sur­round­ing Se­vier County.

The storms also wreaked havoc on tiny, ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties across the South­east, killing five peo­ple and in­jur­ing dozens in Alabama and Ten­nessee.

Three peo­ple per­ished when a tor­nado de­mol­ished a mo­bile home in the small The re­mains of a van and home smol­der Wed­nes­day in the wake of a wild­fire in Gatlin­burg. town of Ros­alie, in north­east­ern Alabama. Five miles east, a day care cen­ter in Ider, Ala., was de­stroyed, leav­ing four chil­dren in crit­i­cal con­di­tion. A mar­ried cou­ple was also killed in Polk County in south­ern Ten­nessee, the state Department of Health said.

“We don’t usu­ally get tor­na­does this time of year,” said Chief Deputy Rocky Har­nen of Jack­son County, Ala., where 50 build­ings were dam­aged or de­stroyed. “But this has not been a nor­mal weather year.”

Wild­fires have been spread­ing for weeks in the South­east, where se­vere drought per­sists. As many as 20 large fires are cur­rently blaz­ing across 142,000 acres, ac­cord­ing to Adam Ron­deau, a spokesman for the U.S. For­est Ser­vice, who de­scribed the un­usu­ally parched con­di­tions as cre­at­ing the “per­fect storm” for wild­fires.

On Mon­day night, high winds swept eastern Ten­nessee, blow­ing burn­ing em­bers from a wild­fire on Chim­ney Tops moun­tain into Gatlin­burg, the gate­way to Great Smoky Moun­tains Na­tional Park.

Lo­cal of­fi­cials and res­i­dents in the town were taken aback by howswiftly the fires spread as winds ig­nited new fire spots and knocked live power lines down onto dry au­tumn leaves. In a span of just 15 min­utes, the fire chief said, emer­gency work­ers were alerted to al­most 20 burn­ing build­ings.

“You know, it hap­pened so fast, it was stag­ger­ing,” said Gatlin­burg Mayor Mike Werner, who lost his twos­tory home as well as the con­do­minium business he has man­aged for 31 years. “When you’ve got winds of up to 87 mph push­ing fire, peo­ple were ba­si­cally run­ning for their lives.”

Michael Lu­ciano, who lives in Chalet Vil­lage, west of down­town Gatlin­burg, recorded cell­phone video of his har­row­ing jour­ney down a nar­row moun­tain road in a


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