Officials were continuing to assess the damage Thursday from a ferocious wildfire that erupted across Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park more than a week ago, killing at least seven people and gutting over 700 structures. Drenching rain on Wednesday helped firefighters beat back the massive blaze, which still burned more than 15,650 acres and was about 10 percent contained, according to the Southern Area Incident Management Team, which assumed command of the fire.
Rescue operations have been slowed by mud and rockslides caused by the wet weather. “The rain we received may have slowed this fire for a day or two at a critical time, but the threat from this fire is still there,” the team said.
While large swaths of the national park were ravaged, the wind-whipped flames also reached the neighboring Appalachian tourist meccas of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. Fire commanders said more than 700 structures in Sevier County have been damaged or destroyed, about 300 of them in Gatlinburg.
As many as 14,000 people were forced to evacuate their homes. An unknown number of people remain missing, although families have been asking for help to find their loved ones.