Tennessee fires blaze into third day; 3 people dead

gatlinburg-fires

GATLINBURG, Tenn. — Three people died in raging wildfires in Sevier County, Tennessee, that scorched roughly 15,000 acres, showered residents with embers and forced tourists to evacuate from resort communities.

The wildfires, which started Monday, damaged or destroyed more than 250 buildings throughout part of eastern Tennessee that’s home to the resort towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. In a dizzying 24-hour period, though, officials said Tuesday the disaster spared some major tourist attractions.

Evacuees said the fire that spread without warning from the Great Smoky Mountains, surrounding their homes. They were forced to leave with only the clothes on their backs.

“There was flames everywhere,” 52-year-old Gatlinburg resident Mark Benzschawel told CNN’s Nick Valencia. “It was a firestorm.”

Benzschawel said police banged on his door Monday night to wake him and his partner, Denise Bearden. The couple alerted their neighbor, who managed to escape with her dog.

Gatlinburg Fire Chief Greg Miller said that the three victims killed in the blaze died in separate incidents.