Thunder, The Memories, The Light

 

4:30 In the morning listening to the rain outside

Quiet massaging thunder rumbling to distill the night

Do we consider the thunder as the fury of God, or His love

O’ listen to the somber drum roll fading off into the night

Thunder the voice of an Angel singing, or a warning of light

The flash of light it changes your life from that time

A near miss, a near that didn’t, you tend to remember the time

Is it a wondrous thing that you got lit up and yet survived

In the rumbles deep and low you wonder why you’re alive

Did the Lord steer the light so we could see our own darkness inside

To The Scepter Above do we humbly and meekly bow even now

Is it guilt, shame, or pride, do we hear the Devil laughing at us now

Our final tally sheet, did we end up doing more good than harm

Something as simple as choking on one’s own spit we can die

None knows if once again we will hear the thunder roar then light

Thunder the last thing we hear tonight, or is it forever goodbye?

North China Is Choking On The Smog: Air Pollution Is Killing People

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SHANGHAI DAILY NEWS)

FRESH air is becoming a luxury for many Chinese. Especially in northern China where many areas been wrapped in heavy smog since last weekend prompting 23 cities to activate red alerts, the highest in a four-tier warning system for severe weather.

Beijing’s environmental monitoring center warned of worse to come today though the smog should disperse overnight due to a north wind.

At least nine of the city’s expressways were closed yesterday morning and, by 2pm, 273 flights had been canceled at Beijing Capital International Airport.

Lessons at kindergartens and primary schools in Beijing, Tianjin, Xi’an and Zhengzhou were suspended, with some high schools also affected.

Beijing-based magazine DUKU sent an apology letter to subscribers, saying its last edition of 2016 would not reach readers until after the New Year due to the temporary closure of a printing plant under the red alert.

Many ready-to-eat products are absent from shelves because of a ban on delivery trucks.

According to a circular released by the neighboring city of Langfang, all restaurants and breakfast stalls in county seats without equipment to deal with fumes have been ordered to halt operations until December 31. Also suspended, until mid-March, are all construction projects in the city.

Escape to Hainan

A resident of Lanzhou, capital of northwest China’s Gansu Province, told reporters in southern China’s Hainan Province that she had flown there with her 2-year-old granddaughter to escape the smog.

“We feel much better here than in Lanzhou,” she said.

Li and her friends are planning to buy houses in Hainan where they can escape during smoggy winters.

On Sunday, two days after Beijing’s red alert, the airport in Haikou, Hainan’s capital, welcomed 32,155 inbound passengers, the highest since October’s National Day holiday.

Liu Lijuan, a fruit and vegetable seller in Hebei Province, says her customers, most of them migrant workers, have little to spend because of work shutdowns due to the smog.

Hebei, one of China’s major steel and coal mining provinces, has shut thousands of factories, construction sites, and even fried-food stalls under red alerts.

“Our company was ordered to halt production on November 20, and 160 of our workers have been temporarily laid off,” said Tian Pengjie at a gypsum factory in the province.

Even under the red alerts, some companies have carried on polluting the air. Xu Ganlu, deputy governor of Henan Province, said the power consumption of the nearly 3,000 companies ordered to halt production had not reduced, indicating they did not halt production. Another 900 companies ordered to limit production did not make any reductions.

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Heavy Smog To Hit Northern China Next 3 Days

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SHANGHAI DAILY NEWS)

http://www.shanghaidaily.com/nation/Heavy-smog-to-hit-north-China/shdaily.shtml

 

SMOG will hit China’s northern regions over the next three days, with visibility reduced sharply, the country’s meteorological authority forecast Saturday.

Parts of Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei, Shanxi, Henan and Shaanxi will be covered by heavy smog from Saturday through Monday, the National Meteorological Center said in an online statement, while suggesting residents wear masks when outside.

Affected by an upcoming cold front, the smog is expected to disappear Monday night.

Winter typically brings the worst air pollution in northern China due to cold weather conditions and an increase in coal burning for heating.

Snow is forecast for parts of Xinjiang, Liaoning, and Jilin over the next two days, the center said.

Shanghai Air Pollution: Horrible Today Should Be Better By The Weekend

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SHANGHAI DAILY NEWS)

SHANGHAI suffered a second bout of pollution this week due to the accumulation of pollutants caused by a lack of wind as well as pollutants from neighboring provinces, said the environment authority.

Today is forecast to be heavily polluted and the situation will improve by weekend.

The city’s average air quality index had been rising since yesterday morning and reached 163, or moderately polluted, at 11am. PM2.5, tiny particles that are hazardous to health, was the major pollutant.

The peak came at 1pm when the index reached 172, with Jing’an and Qingpu districts reporting the worst situation with the density of PM2.5 surpassing 140 micrograms per cubic meter — more than five times the World Health Organization’s standard of 25.

According to Shanghai Environmental Monitoring Center’s prediction, the air quality this morning is expected to be rated as heavily polluted with the AQI falling between 190 and 210.

The index will drop slightly to the level of moderately polluted this afternoon, but is expected to climb above 200 tonight.

Tomorrow will see a slightly polluted air quality with the AQI forecast to fall between 105 and 125, thanks to some easterly winds that should bring cleaner air in from the sea.

Citizens should enjoy a much better air quality over the weekend, according to forecasts.

This is the second round of pollution that Shanghai has endured this week.

On Monday, a blue-color air pollution alert, lowest of the four-tier system, was issued when the AQI hit 227, or heavily polluted, in the morning.

On Tuesday good air quality lasted until some high atmospheric pressure created poor dispersion conditions across the city.

Meanwhile, a slight drop of temperature is expected for the rest of this week.

The highest temperature is forecast to drop to 11 degrees Celsius on Saturday, compared with 15 degrees today, which will be sunny.

Two juveniles charged with arson in Tennessee wildfires that left 14 people dead

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST NEWS PAPER)

Two juveniles charged with arson in Tennessee wildfires that left 14 people dead

December 7 at 4:33 PM

What we know about the Tennessee wildfires

Tens of thousands of people have escaped a deadly wildfire in East Tennessee. Here’s a look at the aftermath of the disaster. (Claritza Jimenez/The Washington Post)

Two juveniles have been charged with aggravated arson in connection with the East Tennessee wildfires that killed 14 people last week and left nearly 150 others injured, authorities said Wednesday.

During an investigation involving local, state and federal agents, “information was developed that two juveniles allegedly started the fire,” the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said in a news release.

Both were taken into custody Wednesday morning and are being held at the Sevier County Juvenile Detention Center.

The suspects are Tennessee residents, District Attorney General Jimmy B. Dunn said at a news conference in Sevierville. No additional information about the youths was made available, including their age and gender.

“I understand that you have a lot of questions,” Dunn told reporters. “However, the law does not allow for the disclosure of additional information at this time.”

He added that additional charges “are being considered” and said the juveniles could be tried as adults.

Two juveniles charged with arson in deadly Tennessee wildfires

Officials say two juveniles are being held on arson charges and additional charges are being considered in connection with the deadly wildfires that broke out last month in Tennessee. (Reuters)

The “Chimney Tops 2” fire was first reported Nov. 23 in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Gatlinburg, according to the National Park Service. The wildfire exploded on Nov. 28, as massive walls of flames spread down the mountains into Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge with shocking speed, according to those who fled with little more than the clothes on their backs.

The fires that engulfed the two tourist towns outside the park and shut down one of the country’s most popular natural attractions left more than 1,750 structures damaged or destroyed, most of them single-family residences. Additionally, thousands of wooded acres burned in the most-visited national park in the United States.

Gatlinburg Fire Chief Greg Miller called the devastation “unfathomable.”

Video shows firefighters driving through Tenn. wildfires

Lt. Steve Coker of the Sevierville Fire Dept. captured video of the wildfires burning in eastern Tennessee as his fire crew moved through the town of Gatlinburg on Nov. 28. (Twitter @alliecoker7)

Although wind gusts exceeding 60 mph caused the disaster to explode in Sevier County, fires had been brewing for months in this region. More than 150,000 acres have been charred in the Southeast by large fires, according to the U.S. Forest Service, and nearly 4,000 firefighters have been called into action to fight blazes that keep popping up.

The wind carried the flames from the nearby Chimney Tops fire across ground parched by a historic drought and into the surrounding towns. The fire moved too fast and too far to contain. “This is a fire for the history books,” Miller said last week. “The likes of this has never been seen here.”

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) called the fire the state’s worst in at least a century.

“To the residents of Sevier County: We stand with you and are committed to making sure justice is served in this case,” TBI Director Mark Gwyn said at the news conference Wednesday.

He added: “Our promise is that we will do every effort to help bring closure to those who have lost so much.”

The investigation, Gwyn said, is ongoing.

Gatlinburg, with a population of about 4,000 about 43 miles south of Knoxville, is surrounded on three sides by Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Smokies, part of the Appalachian mountain range, straddle the border between eastern Tennessee and North Carolina.

Considered the gateway town to the Tennessee side of the park, Gatlinburg draws more than 11 million visitors a year, according to tourism officials. It is known for its mountain chalets and ski lodge — drawing honeymooners and other visitors all year-long.

Despite two days of heavy rains earlier this week, there are nearly 800 firefighters still battling the fires on the mountains. The fire is about 64 percent contained, authorities said Wednesday, and parts of the park remain closed.

But downtown Gatlinburg was spared, and property owners, business owners, renters and lease holders were allowed to return to full-time occupancy on Wednesday. The tourist destination is expected to reopen for business on Friday.

Angela Fritz and Peter Holley contributed to this post, which has been updated numerous times.

India Supreme Court Tells Government To Clean Up New Delhi’s Air: If People Can’t Breathe All Industry Will Stop

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES)

SC okays Centre’s action plan to tackle air pollution in Delhi-NCR

INDIA Updated: Dec 03, 2016 01:02 IST

Bhadra Sinha
Bhadra Sinha
Hindustan Times
The grading system will ensure that certain steps can be automatically introduced. When air quality dips, the odd-even car rationing formula will kick in, along with closure of schools, a four-fold hike in parking fee, ban on entry of trucks, and halt in construction activities.The order came after the top court approved the Central Pollution Control Board’s (CPCB) “graded response action plan” that outlines measures based on air quality — moderate to poor, very poor, severe, and severe-plus or emergency. A separate set of action plan has been suggested for each category.

A bench headed by Chief Justice TS Thakur asked the board to install real-time and manual pollution monitoring stations in Delhi, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan to check air quality for the graded response.

Smoke from farm fires, construction dusts, exhaust fumes from vehicles and factories, and firecrackers combined to shroud New Delhi and its satellite cities in their worst smog for 17 years after Diwali in November. The government was forced to take emergency steps such as closing schools and halting construction, while the judiciary too chipped in with stinging remarks against administrative inaction to clean up the Capital’s foul air.

“Do you want to wait till people start dying? People are gasping for breath,” a bench headed by Chief Justice Thakur said then.

The board, which the top court had pulled up for failing to make a roadmap to reduce air pollution, said severe and very poor air quality are common during winter: November to February.

The air quality index is measured on the basis of PM2.5 and PM10 in the atmosphere, which are tiny particles of dust that can cause grave respiratory disorder and damage the lungs.

The situation becomes severe or emergency when PM2.5 level is above 300 microgram per cubic meter or PM10 crosses the 500-mark. In such a scenario, authorities will close schools, stop the entry of diesel trucks into the Capital, halt construction activities, introduce the odd-even scheme for private vehicles, and hike parking fees.

The graded response fixes responsibility on the agency that has to enforce the measure.

Ban on diesel generators, construction and burning of garbage on landfill sites will kick in if the air index is very poor, with PM2.5 between 121 and 250.

When air quality is moderate or poor, the steps to be taken are ban on garbage burning, watering of fly ash ponds, closure of brick kilns and polluting industries, and mechanised sweeping of roads.

Colombia plane crash: Flight was running out of fuel, investigators reveal

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES)

Colombia plane crash: Flight was running out of fuel, investigators reveal

WORLD Updated: Dec 02, 2016 00:57 IST

Highlight Story

International flight regulations require aircraft to carry enough reserve fuel so they can fly for 30 minutes after reaching their destination in case they need to circle before landing or fly to another airport. (AFP)

The plane that crashed in Colombia killing 71 people including most of a Brazilian soccer team had no fuel on impact, according to initial findings by aviation officials, prompting an investigation into why the plane flew under those conditions.The comments by the civil aviation authority late Wednesday night confirmed Bolivian pilot Miguel Quiroga’s final words to the control tower at Medellin’s airport on a crackly audio obtained by Colombian media.

“When we arrived at the accident site and were able to inspect the remains we could confirm that the aircraft had no fuel at the time of impact,” said Freddy Bonilla, secretary of airline security at Colombia’s aviation authority.

A recording of the pilot’s final words can be heard telling the control tower the plane was “in total failure, total electrical failure, without fuel.”

He requested urgent permission to land before the audio went silent. The BAe 146, made by BAE Systems Plc, slammed into a mountainside next to the town of La Union outside Medellin.

Only six on board the LAMIA Bolivia charter flight survived, including three of the Chapecoense soccer team en route to the Copa Sudamericana final, the biggest game in their history, a journalist and two crew members.

International flight regulations require aircraft to carry enough reserve fuel so they can fly for 30 minutes after reaching their destination in case they need to circle before landing or fly to another airport.

“In this case, sadly, the aircraft did not have enough fuel to meet the regulations for contingency,” Bonilla said in Medellin. “One of the theories we are working on is that finding no fuel at the crash site or in the alimentation tubes, the aircraft suffered fell for lack of fuel.”

LAMIA Chief Executive Officer Gustavo Vargas said on Wednesday it is at the pilot’s discretion to refuel en route. He said plane should have enough fuel for about four and a half hours, more or less depending on weather.

“Weather conditions influence a lot, but he had alternatives in Bogata in case of a fuel deficiency. He had all the power to go to refuel. It’s a decision that the pilot takes,” Vargas told reporters in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.

Bonillo said weather conditions in Medellin at the time were optimum for a successful landing.

Some have also questioned why Chapecoense used the charter company instead of a commercial airline.

Investigators from Brazil have joined Colombian counterparts to check two black boxes from the crash site on a muddy hillside in wooded highlands near La Union.

Bolivia, where LAMIA is based, and the United Kingdom also sent experts to help the probe.

The club’s vice president, Luiz Antonio Palaoro, said LAMIA had a track record of transporting soccer teams around South America and it had used the airline before.

“We are dealing with the humanitarian aspect of the families and the victims,” Palaoro told reporters in Chapeco. “After that, we are going to have to think about restructuring the team and also in the appropriate legal measures.”

Among surviving players, goalkeeper Jackson Follmann’s right leg was amputated, while defender Helio Neto was in intensive care with severe trauma to his skull, thorax and lungs, and fellow defender Alan Ruschel had spinal surgery.

Two of the Bolivian flight crew, Ximena Suarez and Erwin Tumiri, were bruised but not in critical condition, while journalist Rafael Valmorbida was in intensive care for multiple rib fractures that partly collapsed a lung.

Rescuers have recovered all of the bodies, which are to be sent to Brazil and Bolivia.

The bodies of Brazilians on the plane have been identified and are being embalmed and prepared for transport by military aircraft back to Brazil, Chapecoense soccer club Communications Director Andrei Copetti told reporters.

He said the coffins will arrive in Chapeco as soon as midday Friday and be taken directly to the club’s stadium for a collective wake that Brazilian President Michel Temer is expected to attend.

Since there was no fire on board, bodies are being identified by fingerprints, Julio Bitelli, Brazil’s ambassador to Colombia, told Reuters.

Deadly Storms Batters Fire Ravaged East Tennessee Tourists Towns

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE)

Search-and-rescue 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 eastern Tennessee.

As the death toll climbed to seven Wednesday, according to the Associated Press, 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.

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 Wednesday morning, 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 town of Rosalie, in northeastern Alabama. Five miles east, a daycare 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 active wildfires.

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

Local officials and residents in the town were taken aback by how swiftly 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 two-story 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 on cellphone video his harrowing journey down a narrow mountain road in a pickup truck, past flaming orange trees and cabins. (Warning, video contains profanity.)

“Hit the gas,” he screamed at his brother, Anthony Fulton, as red flames engulfed both sides of the road and embers bounced off the windshield. Their frightened dog can be heard panting in the background

Smoke filled their truck as they hurtled past blazing, burnt-out structures. “No warning, nothing…” Luciano exclaimed. “Almost every cabin in Chalet Village is burning to the freakin’ ground!”

Dozens of guests and staff found themselves trapped inside the Park Vista, a modern, high-rise hotel perched on a ridge above downtown Gatlinburg. Some fled outside with their luggage, only to find the sole road to safety blocked by fallen trees and flames.

“Then the flames came up into the parking lot,” Logan Baker, a hotel guest, told WBIR-TV.

As Baker and his aunt frantically tried to help guests get back inside, he said, embers started flying through the doors and into the hotel. Firefighters barricaded the hotel and urged guests to huddle in the center of the smoke-filled lobby as they worked to beat the fire back from the building.

Across Gatlinburg and surrounding Sevier County, hundreds of structures were damaged and destroyed – from the Sleepy Bear Motel to Cupid’s Chapel of Love, a tiny wedding venue.

State Highway 441 into Gatlinburg remained closed, and more than 14,000 residents and tourists have been evacuated. At least 45 people were taken to the hospital.

“This is a fire for the history books,” Gatlinburg Fire Chief Greg Miller said at a news conference Tuesday.

“A lot of us have heavy hearts about what’s happened here,” Gov. Bill Haslam said at another news press conference Tuesday evening, noting that it was “a little numbing” to take in the extent of the devastation. “This is the largest fire in the last 100 years in the state of Tennessee.”

Still, much of downtown and some major tourist attractions appeared to have been spared. More than 10,000 animals at Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies in Gatlinburg remained safe, even though staff had been forced to evacuate Monday. In nearby Pigeon Forge, some cabins at the Dollywood theme park — co-owned by country singer Dolly Parton, who is from the area — were damaged or destroyed, yet the park remained unscathed after firefighters dug a fire line.

With more than 10,000 people without power, emergency workers cleared debris Wednesday morning and went door to door checking on residents.

“We have not been able to get in all of the areas,” Miller said. “We pray that we don’t experience any more fatalities.”

Jarvie is a special Los Angeles Times correspondent. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2016, Chicago Tribune

‘People were basically running for their lives’: At least 3 dead as fires engulf Tennessee towns

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST NEWS PAPER)

‘People were basically running for their lives’: At least 3 dead as fires engulf Tennessee towns

November 29 at 7:14 PM

Wildfires force evacuations in two Tenn. resort towns

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Wildfires raging in the Tennessee resort towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, north of the Great Smoky Mountains have forced residents and visitors to evacuate. (Reuters)

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 certain 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 press 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 cities 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.

Miller said that the Chimney Tops fire, which was reported Sunday, started to rage Monday night when winds climbed to 87 mph, carrying away fiery embers and knocking trees and power lines to the ground.

Officials at Great Smoky Mountains National Park said Tuesday morning that the extensive fire and fallen trees had forced the temporary closure of the most visited national park in America. In the surrounding towns, the sky was smoky and the ground wet with rain. Officials said the wind had died down, but a handful of buildings continued to burn.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) said Tuesday afternoon that the state was sending resources, including the National Guard, to help those who had been affected by the fires.

“We will do all we can to help these communities rebuild & recover,” Haslam wrote on Twitter.

Residents evacuated the area as trees caught fire on the low slope of the hills and mountains on either side of the road — the flames’ orange tendrils licking at the asphalt and black smoke obscuring the sky.

“Fire was coming over the mountains, and the smoke was so bad we could barely breathe as we were trying to pack up,” Mike Gill, who was evacuating with his wife, Betty, told NBC News.

Katie Brittain, manager at the Dress Barn in Pigeon Forge, told The Washington Post that when she arrived at work Monday, the sky was brown and ash was raining down. Despite the ominous conditions, store employees weren’t sure whether they were supposed to evacuate from their location, not far from Dolly Parton’s theme park, Dollywood.

She said employees stayed put, but grew increasingly nervous as the smoke thickened and the wind increased that afternoon. By the end of the day, she said, the inside of the store “smelled like a bonfire.”

“The smell was really, really bad,” she said. “My eyes were burning and our throats were getting scratchy.”

“Everyone was kind of in a state of disbelief,” she added.

At least 14 people were transported from Gatlinburg for treatment, mostly for injuries that were not life-threatening, officials said Tuesday.

In Gatlinburg, flames began engulfing private structures, including the 300-room Park Vista hotel. Inside the hotel, dozens of guests were trapped Monday by a wall of flames around the building.

Logan Baker told NBC affiliate WBIR that the firefighters initially told guests that they would be safe inside the building, but a short time later, “they saw flames coming down the hill.” By the time guests had packed their cars with luggage, however, it was too late to escape, Baker told the station, noting that the only road out was covered in flames.

“When you opened the doors, it just blew you back,” he said. “Embers started flying into the hotel.”

Baker told WBIR he helped bring people back inside the hotel; once inside, firefighters told them to remain in the lobby while they fought the fire outside.

Video taken from inside the hotel lobby shows massive flames licking at the windows. Guests can be overheard discussing a plan to “dive into the pool.”

“Well, they locked the pool up,” one woman said.

 Carol Lilleaas, a Gatlinburg resident, said she fled her home with only her animals and her husband’s ashes. She does not know what has happened to her house, or what she might be returning to.

“It will be there or it won’t,” she said.

Another resident, Jeff Barker, said that he did know the extent of the fire’s destruction in his life. When he was returning from work on Monday, people were being stopped from entering Gatlinburg, he said. So Barker said he set off on foot.

“By the time I arrived at my apartment, apartment’s gone, car’s gone, pets are gone,” he said.

The fire also forced employees at Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies to evacuate, leaving behind more than 10,500 animals, Ripley Attractions General Manager Ryan DeSear told WBIR.

DeSear said the blaze was about 50 yards from the building when employees had to evacuate.

“To them, every animal has a name,” he said. “You don’t give that up.” But he added: “Nothing is more important than human life. Fish can be replaced. It sucks.”

Late Tuesday morning, Ripley announced that the animals were “safe and under care.”

The town of Gatlinburg, with a population of about 4,000 about 43 miles south of Knoxville, is surrounded on three sides by the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Smokies, part of the Appalachian mountain range, straddle the border between eastern Tennessee and North Carolina.

Considered the gateway city to the Tennessee side of the park, Gatlinburg draws more than 11 million visitors a year, according to tourism officials. It is known for its mountain chalets and ski lodge — drawing honeymooners and other visitors all year long.

Gatlinburg’s neighbor, Pigeon Forge, is home to Dollywood, country-themed music venues and attractions, and popular outlet malls.

According to the park officials, Great Smoky Mountains National Park logged more than 9.4 million visitors in 2013 — by far the most of any of the 59 national parks that year. “The second most heavily visited national park is Grand Canyon with 4.6 million visits,” according to the National Park Service.

On Tuesday, the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency and other officials urged residents in Sevier County to stay clear of roadways to make way for first responders and to stay off wireless devices, unless it was to make an emergency call, to keep systems clear for vital communication. The agency also announced a temporary flight restriction in the area “to prevent aircraft from complicating the response.”

“This is going to be a marathon, not a sprint,” Michelle Hankes, executive director of the American Red Cross of East Tennessee, said about the response effort.

Hankes, who recorded a video statement at an emergency shelter in Pigeon Forge, said that about 130 people, including children and pets, have turned up there while fleeing their homes. Hundreds of others were sheltered elsewhere.

“This fire is unpredictable,” Hankes said, crying. “We still have wind gusts — the rain has helped, but it’s still a devastating, devastating loss for the people here.”

Officials said the towns and surrounding area sustained widespread property damage.

“The center of Gatlinburg looks good for now,” Newmansville Volunteer Fire Department Lt. Bobby Balding told the Knoxville News Sentinel. But he added: “It’s the apocalypse on both sides.”

TEMA said Tuesday that “very preliminary surveys of damaged areas” suggested that “hundreds of structures are lost.”

“Westgate Resorts is likely entirely gone (more than 100 buildings),” TEMA said in a statement, “Black Bear Falls has likely lost every single cabin.” The agency initially said that Ober Gatlinburg Ski Area and Amusement Park “reportedly is entirely destroyed.” However, the mountain resort posted a video Tuesday morning showing the facility intact.

A curfew was in place for the city of Gatlinburg, which was expected to last from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., according to the TEMA.

Officials said in a statement that Dollywood, in Pigeon Forge — the largest theme park in the area — had sustained no real damage by late Monday, but that 50 rooms in the park’s DreamMore Resort and 19 of its cabins were still evacuated.

“Dollywood crews and firefighters are working to protect the park areas adjacent to a fire burning on Upper Middle Ridge,” according to the statement.

Officials in Pigeon Forge estimated that about 500 people were evacuated on Monday night, according to TEMA. About 125 people were still displaced and in shelters, TEMA said in a statement.

“Local officials in Pigeon Forge [have] lifted the mandatory evacuation order,” it said in the statement. “Gatlinburg still remains under a mandatory evacuation order.”

 

National park officials explained that the severe wind gusts of more than 80 mph, combined with “unprecedented low relative humidity, and extended drought conditions,” caused the fire “to spread rapidly and unpredictably.”

“Wind gusts carried burning embers long distances causing new spot fires to ignite across the north-central area of the park and into Gatlinburg,” Great Smoky Mountains National Park wrote on its Facebook pageTuesday morning. “In addition, high winds caused numerous trees to fall throughout the evening on Monday bringing down power lines across the area that ignited additional new fires that spread rapidly due to sustained winds of over 40 mph.”

The conditions made it difficult — if not impossible — for firefighters to contain the flames.

“The wind is not helping, and the rain is not here yet,” Miller, the Gatlinburg Fire Department chief, said in a news conference on Monday night. “These are the worst possible conditions imaginable.”

A severe drought — a key competent to the devastating blaze — is ongoing in eastern Tennessee. All of Sevier County is in an “exceptional drought,” which is the worst on the U.S. Drought Monitor Scale. That means there are widespread crop and pasture losses, shortages in water reservoirs, streams and wells.

Weather Underground’s Bob Henson reports that this has been the hottest and driest fall in the city of Gatlinburg’s history. In normal years, the Tennessee city averages 56 inches of rain, “so it doesn’t take much time for a drought to hit this normally moist landscape hard,” Henson wrote.

This was just sent to us by a friend in Gatlinburg. This is on Airport Road up by Sidney James Lodge.

Just sent to me Wedding Chapel in Gatlinburg

View image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on Twitter

Fire threatens beloved Arrowmont School of Arts/Crafts in downtown Gatlinburg.http://on.wbir.com/2gCI6zV 
(Photos: Bill May)@wbir

The Southeast has spent much of the past few weeks battling forest fires, which began after one of its worst droughts on record. Several states have been affected.

As The Washington Post reported Nov. 16, when there were 17 active fires in the southern Appalachians, “The entire state of South Carolina is covered in an unhealthy haze from fires burning in the Blue Ridge Mountains.”

At that time, more than 80,000 acres had been burned.

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