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Mandatory evacuations ordered as crews fight 1,000-acre Tennessee wildfire

The Sevier County Emergency Management Agency is ordering mandatory evacuations for those in the Wears Valley and Dupont areas.

WEARS VALLEY, Tenn. — ***Editor's Note: This article contains wildfire updates specifically from Wednesday, March 30 and portions of Thursday, March 31. For the latest updates, please head to our front page.***

UPDATE (3/31: 11 p.m.): According to the Sevier County Emergency Management Agency, the Wears Valley fire is now more than 3,700 acres and 45% contained.

Sevier County said crews are also fighting a wildfire fire in Seymour in the area of Millstone Gap Road and Cold Springs Hollow Road near the Blount-Sevier County line. According to the Tennessee Division of Forestry, the fire has grown to approximately 800 acres and is 0% contained. 

71 fire departments are responding to the fire with 100 pieces of fire apparatus. Evacuation orders remain in place for the Hatcher Mountain fire.

The construction worker who was injured Wednesday is reportedly "okay." Two firefighters were also treated at the scene on Thursday.

Eight helicopters and a fixed-wing aircraft are expected to help out with the fire Thursday.

Mandatory evacuations have been issued in Wears Valley and Seymour as crews work to contain the two fires.

The EMA created a dynamic map people can access and type their address into at this link, which will show if you are in the evacuation area.

RELATED: Brush fires force mandatory evacuations for 3 neighborhoods in the Gatlinburg area

Some 11,000 homes were evacuated starting Wednesday afternoon, Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters said.

Also, some 100-plus structures have been "affected," the mayor said, including many that were completely destroyed. Many homes and cabins were in the path of the fire.

Sevier County EMA said property damage assessments will begin soon but requested people stop calling 911 to get property damage information. It said residents and visitors needing general information (not insurance company calls) can call 865-774-3899. It asked to reserve 911 for emergencies only.

The EMA also asked for people to refrain from bringing donations to any locations until it provides information for money and supplies donations later Thursday afternoon. You can find a list of ways to donate and help at this link.

At 11:35 a.m. Thursday, the Tennessee Department of Agriculture said crews are taking advantage of the rain to temper the fire and develop a containment line.

As of 1 a.m. Thursday, the fire evacuation circle had been extended for the Dupont Area from South Rogers Road to the Blount-Sevier County line as crews worked the Seymour fire.

"If you are unsure if you are in this area, you should evacuate," the EMA said.

Knoxville Fire Department also sent two additional engine companies with eight firefighters to assist with the Sevier County wildfires. KFD also said they will help rotate members to allow firefighters time to rest.

Shelters have been established at the Pigeon Forge Community Center located at 170 Community Center Drive and at Seymour Heights Christian Church at 122 Boyds Creek Highway to help anyone displaced by the fire.

According to TEMA at 2 p.m. on Thursday, the Red Cross reported sheltering 120 people at the wildfire evacuee shelter located at the Pigeon Forge Community Center and assisting more than 500 evacuees through the center since Wednesday night.

The Sevierville Convention Center at 202 Gists Creek Road is also now open as an evacuation shelter for persons displaced by the Hatcher Mountain Road/Indigo Lane Fire in Wears Valley. Additional shelters may be opened as needed, according to Sevier County EMA. 

The Red Cross is helping the Sevier County EMA with an evacuation center at the Pigeon Forge Community Center.

Spanish Version: Incendio forestal reportado en Wears Valley, orden de evacuación emitida para el área cerca de Indigo Lane, Shagbark o Preserve

As of 4 p.m. on Thursday, Sevier County officials reported a portion of Wears Valley Road had to be closed again between Valley View and Waldens Creek due to hotspots until further notice.

Multiple buildings in the fire zone could be seen fully engulfed in flames. Sevier County spokesperson Perrin Anderson said at least 35 structures have been affected as of 8:30 p.m.

On Wednesday, the county said it is going to be using controlled back burns to remove fuel in hopes of stopping the fire from spreading to the main road.

Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters said a contractor working excavation on a home near the fire was injured. He said the biggest concern is the windy and dry weather that's still ahead, but said "dozens" of fire crews and emergency responders are working to contain the fire.

"We have crews coming from all across the state," Waters said. "Continue to pray for our emergency personnel."

The Tennessee Department of Agriculture said the terrain in the area is steep, making fire suppression efforts difficult.

Sevier County Electric said it will be shutting off power in the Wears Valley Road, Hatcher Mountain and Little Valley areas due to high winds at the request of the EMA and fire departments to prevent more fires from sparking up from downed power lines.

Hearthside at the Preserve in the Smoky Mountains shared live web cameras overlooking the fire in Wears Valley at this link.

Sevier County Schools will be closed Thursday and Friday due to the wildfire and "out of an abundance of caution." Blount County Schools will also be closed Thursday due to "weather-related issues" and numerous power outages.

At 2 p.m. Wednesday, Tony Ogle, a spokesperson for Sevier County Schools, said the district is evacuating the remaining students from Wearwood Elementary, which is near the Wears Valley fire.

He said about 70 students of 200 enrolled are being brought by bus to the Pigeon Forge Community Center where parents can pick them up.

The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency has asked for the Tennessee Army National Guard to help fight the fire by air, according to Lt. Col. Darrin Haas, the director of public affairs for the Tennessee Army National Guard.

The Tennessee Army National Guard is at McGhee Tyson airbase and is "waiting on standby and ready to go", but they have been told other aircraft are now responding, Lt. Col. Haas said. 

Officials with the Tennessee Division of Forestry, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Sevier County Fire Department, Seymour Volunteer Fire Department, the Pigeon Forge Fire Department, the Tennessee Highway Patrol's District one strike team, Waldens Creek VFD and the Wears Valley VFD are all responding to the scene as well.

There are houses in the area, but it is unclear how close the fire is to those houses, according to Tennessee Division of Forestry spokesperson Nathan Waters.

Two people who own three rental cabins and live on Hatcher Mountain spoke with 10News reporter Katelyn Keenehan on the scene. 

"We saw smoke coming up from the bottom of Hatcher Mountain up to Indigo Lane," said Fred Hinds, the cabin owner. 

Fred's power went out around 10 a.m. and he and his wife, Monique, began seeing smoke around 11 a.m. The pair have since been evacuated from their home.

"One minute the fire is here and then just a few moments later, it'll be over a ridge on the other side of the ridge. That says the wind is high," said Jim Wood, founder of the Wears Valley Ranch, a children's home. "I'm looking out there and saying, 'Dear Lord, please cause this to get under control and don't let the winds be as bad as they're forecasting."

RELATED: Gusty winds close several roads across the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Wood told 10News the children's home has evacuated its 20+ children “out of an abundance of caution.” 

It is also unclear how large the fire is at this time.

Jeffrey Shults, a Wears Valley resident, said the fire started around 11 a.m. and was small but is growing "exponentially."

WEARS VALLEY UPDATE 3/30 1:23 PM: Evacuations for the immediate area around Shahbark /Preserve area. Shelter has been...

Posted by Waldens Creek Volunteer Fire Department on Wednesday, March 30, 2022

This situation is ongoing that will be updated as more information becomes available.

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