Wildfires around Gatlinburg, Tennessee, have prompted mass evacuations, including some of the iconic tourist attractions such as Dollywood and Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies.
The evacuation of the aquarium is particularly concerning as employees were forced to leave thousands of animals behind in the facility.
The museum’s webcam was active and showed the building still standing as of Tuesday morning, according to Ripley’s Aquarium general manager Ryan DeSear. Around 150 structures have been destroyed in the fires.
DeSear said that while during storms, the aquarium normally keep a team there, the fires prompted a decision by management to completely evacuate all employees particularly due to smoke concerns. “We had every expectation at that point to lose the aquarium,” he said.
DeSear added that the building’s automated systems are designed to keep the animals safe and healthy. There are 10,518 animals in the aquarium. A rapid response team is headed back in to check on the animals. He said that he will not know the condition of the animals until that team gets inside the building to check on them.
WATE News 6 reports that Ripley’s is built on a bunker and reported no fires as of early Tuesday morning. The news station posted the following report on the current status of the disaster:
According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, police were, at first, going door to door in order to ask residents to voluntarily evacuate, but fire officials decided that a voluntary evacuation was not enough. They issued a mandatory evacuation in the cities of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge as the blaze grew in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Cassius Cash, the Great Smoky Mountain National Park Superintendent, said that in his 25 years of service, he has never seen anything that would prepare him for this fire. “Winds up to 80 miles per hour and also had winds that sustained at 30 to 40 miles per hour for over 10 to 12 hours,” he said.
Heavy rain which moved into the area on Monday was much welcome relief for firefighting efforts. The fire, fueled by dry conditions and strong winds, has destroyed a number of structures and forced mass evacuations in the tourist town.
Pictures and video have been posted to social media showing the devastating fires and smoke in the area.
— ABC News (@ABC) November 29, 2016
And USA Today posted a video of some residents who recorded their escape through the fire:
— USA TODAY Multimedia (@usatodayvideo) November 29, 2016