'Apocalypse': Tenn. Wildfires Force Aquarium to Leave 10K Animals

Flames threaten Ripley's, Dollywood as much-needed rain finally falls
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 29, 2016 6:32 AM CST
Fire crews battle a wildfire in California on Nov. 22, 2016.   (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

(Newser) – One of at least 14 wildfires raging in Gatlinburg, Tenn., is threatening thousands of animals at Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies. Flames engulfed at least 30 buildings in the area late Monday—including a 16-story hotel outside the Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge—leading aquarium employees to be "force evacuated," the general manager tells WBIR. They left behind 10,518 animals that will survive without humans for 24 hours, unless flames reach the aquarium. "We need to be one of the first people allowed back in when it's safe," the manager says. Many areas of Gatlinburg and neighboring Pigeon Forge are under mandatory evacuations with 100 homes affected, reports WBIR. "It's the apocalypse" in downtown Gatlinburg, one fire official tells WFAA.

So far there have been no reports of fatalities or major injuries, per CNN, with just two people suffering minor burns, including one of 29 hikers rescued in Sevier County. Fire officials believe some of the fires were sparked by high winds, which sent trees crashing onto power lines. They spread easily as the area is suffering a drought; many parts of the South have seen 10 to 15 inches less rainfall than usual over the last three months. It's "been just unbelievable what we've experienced here," says a superintendent at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where one wildfire is raging. The good news: A US Forest Service rep says Tuesday’s forecast predicts rain will fall where it's needed most, per the AP. However, the fire threat and drought conditions are expected to continue. (Read more wildfires stories.)

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