How the Gatlinburg fire spread so rapidly - WSMV Channel 4

How the Gatlinburg fire spread so rapidly

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(WSMV file photo) (WSMV file photo)
GATLINBURG, TN (WSMV) -

Eleven people are dead and hundreds of homes and buildings have been destroyed in the wildfires in Sevier County.

What was a peaceful, serene mountain home just a few days ago, may never look the same again.

If it seems like this all happened in the flash of an eye, it's because it did.

On Monday morning, an air quality advisory was issued for the area because of the smoke coming from the Chimney Tops.

Those in the area said while it was an unusual amount of smoke, they weren’t worried and could have never predicted what was to come that night.

"What got us to this situation was a fire at the Chimney Tops," said Gatlinburg Fire Chief Greg Miller.

The fire in the Chimney Tops started the day before Thanksgiving in steep terrain and was listed as three acres burning at the summit on the trail.

It was said to be slow moving and started by a human, but whether it was an accident or arson is still under investigation.

"It really was the perfect storm," said Channel 4 chief meteorologist Lisa Spencer.

On Monday the fire began spreading thanks to high winds and exceptional drought conditions.

"Several ingredients came together, first the winds were incredible alone," Spencer said.

"Around the time of 6 p.m., the wind speeds doubled. There were times that we had wind gusts in excess of 87 mph. That is hurricane force. That is not where to be when trying to fight a fire," Miller said.

More wildfires began burning in other areas because of embers flying.

"At the same time we were facing that challenge, the high winds were knocking down trees. Those trees were hitting power lines and those were falling on very dry extreme drought-like conditions and everything was catching on fire, that is how it got to that point so rapidly," Miller said.

Rain fell on Tuesday in the area. Officials said that helped, but it does not mean the drought conditions are over.

"We have had rain there in the Smokies, but we are talking about a canopy of trees, so it would take a lot of rain to saturate the ground to help out with the drought situation there," Spencer said.

What began as three acres is now affecting more than 17,000 acres on Thursday night. Firefighters are still working to put out the flames.

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