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Thousands flee Gatlinburg fires; parks closed

Published: Tuesday, November 29, 2016 @ 1:22 PM

Authorities in Tennessee issue a mandatory evacuation order for downtown Gatlinburg & Pigeon Forge residents and tourists.

Wildfires are threatening popular tourist attractions in Gatlinburg, Tenn., one of the top travel destinations for people from Ohio.

Hundreds of homes, hotels and other buildings have already been destroyed.Downtown Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge have been evacuated.

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According to the Associated Press, in downtown Gatlinburg, workers at Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies had to flee because of the wildfires and left behind more than 10,000 fish and other animals. So far, the building appeared OK. 

"The aquarium, as far as we looked at this morning, was intact," said Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters. "I understand that they had a generator so they were able to do what they needed to do to protect the animals."

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Officials with Dollywood, the amusement park named after country music icon Dolly Parton, said the theme park wasn't damaged, but more than a dozen cabins operated by the park had been. 

Dollywood suspended park operations at least through Wednesday. Its DreamMore resort will be open on a limited basis as a shelter and for registered guests.

Fire erupts on both side of Highway 441 between Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Tenn., Monday, Nov. 28, 2016. In Gatlinburg, smoke and fire caused the mandatory evacuation of downtown and surrounding areas, according to the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency. (Jessica Tezak/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP)(Jessica Tezak/Knoxville News Sentinel)

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Aquarium officials in wildfire-threatened Gatlinburg, Tennessee, say they have a team of biologists inside the facility and that all of the 10,000 fish and other animals are safe. 

 

Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies made the announcement in a statement Tuesday, hours after workers had to flee the building when wildfires fueled by high winds spread across parts of eastern Tennessee. More than 14,000 people in the city were forced to leave and an entire resort was wiped out by the fire. A dozen people were injured but no deaths have been reported. 

 

Aquarium officials say police escorted an "emergency team" back into the facility to check on the animals Tuesday. 

 

The aquarium will remain closed until the evacuation orders are lifted. Officials say more than 2 million people visit the aquarium each year.