By Michael Williams
An army of firefighters from more than 20 area fire departments began battling a massive fire on Black Bear Cub Way in Pigeon Forge Sunday. The massive blaze cast an orange glow that could be seen for more than a mile and as far away as Bluff Mountain. By Monday afternoon a welcome torrential rain moved into the area and saturated the ground helping extinguish the flames.
According to fire officials the fire broke out at approximately 4 p.m. as a brush fire then quickly spread to several cabins in the vicinity. By Monday afternoon the fire had destroyed more than 300 acres of land and destroyed 59 cabins. Firefighters began coming in from out of state as the fire grew to monstrous proportions and gained national media attention on CNN.
More than 150 people were displaced and took up refuge in nearby hotels some of which provided free rooms for the victims of the fire. Liquid propane tanks near the cabins were reportedly exploding from the intense heat further complicating the efforts of firefighters. Emergency personnel quickly evacuated nearby cabins and officials say several homes in the area are at risk. Area rescue agencies set up emergency evacuation shelters to provide temporary shelter to those displaced.
The state declared an emergency and sent in National Guard helicopters Monday in an effort to control the wildfire. In Pigeon Forge tourists continued to arrive almost oblivious to the inferno south of the town. The air around town appeared hazy as smoke was whipped by the wind but the air was tolerable. National Guard helicopters could be seen flying overhead with large vats of water needed to battle the blaze. Firefighters were exhausted and began fighting in 12-hour shifts.
Several local grocery stores and restaurants donated food and beverages which were taken to nearby churches where firefighters were fed and given a brief opportunity to rest.
Helicopters were having difficulty dropping water on the poorly contained fire because of the wind, said Dean Flener of the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency.
By Monday afternoon brisk winds fanned the flames thus spreading the fire. In the late afternoon the firefighters finally got a break when torrential rains fell saturating the scorched ground. The rain was a blessing for the weary firefighters who were finally able to contain the inferno. By late Monday only five acres continued to burn and the fire was finally contained.
No injuries have been reported and officials are asking that people stay away from the area as several emergency vehicles need access to the road.
“It looks like somebody just went through there and just dropped a bomb on the place,” said Shannon McCostlin. “I feel bad for them people.”