/Tennessee Wildfires Sweep Across the Smoky Mountains

Tennessee Wildfires Sweep Across the Smoky Mountains

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Karen Ayoub

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The wildfires that began in Tennessee on Sunday, November 27, have spread and continued to grow. Tragically, these fires have affected much of the beautiful Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The first few fires are believed to have been human-caused, but others were natural, as strong winds blew embers. These gusts, over 90 miles (or 145 kilometers) per hour, caused significant damage – also knocking down power lines, which contributed to the spreading wildfires.

“We went from nothing to over 20-plus structure fires in a matter of minutes. And that grew and that grew and that grew,” Gatlinburg Fire Chief Greg Miller said.

The fires reached several towns in Tennessee’s Sevier County, such as Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. Over two hundred firefighters were called in from all over the state, from even as far as Memphis. Aside from attempting to halt and contain the fire, firefighters have been working to clear fallen power lines and remove debris. They are also working in rescue teams to search for people who have gone missing.

The effects of the fires have been quite serious. Mass evacuations have taken place for schools, homes, and even resorts. Over 14,000 people have been evacuated. There have been at least fifty people hospitalized with injuries due to the fire, as well as eleven deaths. Hundreds of homes and businesses have been destroyed. More than 17,000 acres of land have suffered damage from the fires. This is quite unfortunate because of the rich diversity of wildlife inhabiting the Smoky Mountains.

According to Bruce Stein, the associate vice president for conservation science and climate adaptation at the National Wildlife Federation, “The Great Smoky Mountains are one of the most biologically diverse places in the United States, partly due to the geologically ancient nature of the landscape, as well as the wet and humid forests covering their slopes and hollows.”

Stein believes that these fires are not just typical wildfires, but are rather indicative of something bigger. Along with many other scientists, he holds climate change responsible for these excessively large wildfires. With drier winters and warmer springs, there is less moisture in the air and on the ground. This allows for the formation and spread of fires in this region of the country. Scientists expect the prevalence of fires like the ones in Tennessee to increase.

Despite the tragedy of the Tennessee wildfires, there is already talk of rebuilding. On Thursday, Gatlinburg Mayor Mike Werner asserted, “We’re going to be good, we’re going to be strong, we’re going to be back. We’ll be okay.” Sure enough, by Thursday afternoon, over $120,000 was raised through the American Red Cross’ telethon.

In addition, President Barrack Obama met with the governor of Tennessee Bill Haslam, pledging to assist Tennessee residents and agencies. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) approved a grant to mobilize resources. Another individual that has brought tremendous help is Tennessee country singer Dolly Parton. On Friday, December 2, she initiated the “My People Fund,” which will provide $1,000 monthly to each family that has lost their home. Hopefully, with these forms of support and other donations pouring in, the residents of Sevier County will be able to rebuild their lives.

Several nonprofit organizations are collecting donations for those affected by the fires. The Salvation Army, Convoy of Hope, and the Lions Club of East Tennessee are just a few. Even though the wildfires have taken place in Tennessee, a few hundred miles away from Newark, New Jersey, students can still help out. For ways to lend a hand, check out: http://edition.cnn.com/2016/12/01/us/iyw-tennessee-wildfires-how-to-help/