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US wildfire burns through Tennessee amid drought


A historic wildfire in the US state of Tennessee has forced the evacuation of thousands of residents and destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses as the region suffers an exceptional drought.

Drought-induced wildfires fanned by strong winds forced the evacuation Monday of the towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, popular tourist destinations in the Great Smoky Mountains, officials said.

As of Tuesday, firefighters were battling 20 large fires that are burning 100 acres or more across the US Southeast, said Adam Rondeau, a spokesman for the US Forest Service.

No deaths were reported but one man suffered burns and several injuries were reported after a fire truck crash, the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency said in a statement.

The agency said about 30 buildings including a hotel and an apartment were on fire in Gatlinburg on Monday. About 7 miles (10 km) north, parts of Pigeon Forge were also evacuated.

“These are the worst possible conditions imaginable,” Gatlinburg Fire Department Chief Greg Miller told reporters, according to the Tennessean newspaper.

More than 14,000 people—tourists and residents—evacuated the Gatlinburg area alone.

“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 told NBC News as he was leaving the area with his wife. “The traffic is horrible. It’s a mass exodus.”

A severe drought that began earlier this summer has created conditions for wildfires to spread quickly. The fires, some of which officials suspect were intentionally set, have destroyed tens of thousands of acres across the South in recent weeks.

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