Fires force evacuations in Gatlinburg, TN, nearby communities

GATLINBURG, Tenn. -- A mandatory evacuation has been issued for Gatlinburg and nearby communities.

The Southeast's worst drought in nearly a decade will no doubt make it difficult for firefighters to corral at least 14 fires in and around Gatlinburg, a popular tourist gateway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Gatlinburg Fire Chief Greg Miller said Monday evening that crews are battling wind gusts of up to 70 mph. "If you're a person of prayer, we could use your prayers," Miller told reporters.

The Sevier County Emergency Management Agency issued evacuations from the city of Gatlinburg and nearby communities.

"Nobody is allowed into the city at this time. If you are currently in Gatlinburg and are able to evacuate ... evacuate immediately."

The agency also advised people who have not been instructed to evacuate to stay off the roads.

The National Guard has been deployed to help clear debris from the road to get vehicles out, according to WATE.

The national park has closed some of its roads because of the fire danger, including Gatlinburg Bypass.

"It's very dangerous weather conditions," Dana Soehn with the National Park Service told WATE. "We've had trees coming down, limbs coming down and the fire is continuing to grow."

The park sent a series of tweets throughout the day about fires in its boundaries.

Facebook activated its safety check.

The brush fire is close to the Dollywood property, the theme park owned by Dolly Parton in Pigeon Forge, said Dean Flener, spokesman for Tennessee Emergency Management. He did not know if the park itself was on fire. CNN has reached out to Dollywood for more information.

Fires burned perilously close to roads and places people live. Social media images and videos showed how the night sky had turned bright orange with flames.

School buses were being used to transport evacuees. Nearby county schools have closed and shelters have opened throughout the area, reported WATE.

"Due to continued erratic winds, the fires are very unpredictable and more fire growth is expected."

The park has evacuated employees from the Elkmont and park headquarters housing areas.

There may be some good news: Rain is forecast in the area.

More on the bad news: High winds are possible across eastern Tennessee, southwest Virginia and southwest North Carolina, according to the National Weather Service. They could down trees and power lines and fan the flames.