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Thousands evacuated as Tennessee wildfires rage near mountainside resort town

GATLINBURG, Tenn. -- Three Gatlinburg-area resorts appear to have been destroyed by wildfires in the popular tourist area in eastern Tennessee, state emergency management spokesman Dean Flener said Tuesday morning.

The resorts are the Ober Gatlinburg amusement park and ski area, the Black Bear Falls log-cabin rental resort, and the Westgate Mountain Resort & Spa, Flener said, citing initial reports from Sevier County emergency management officials.

Flener said at least four people have been injured in the wildfires, which have been spurred by strong winds and the Southeast's worst drought in nearly a decade. The fires have forced evacuations from downtown Gatlinburg -- a city of about 4,000 residents but a vacation attraction for many more -- as well as the town of Pigeon Forge and nearby communities.

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

On Monday afternoon, a wildfire from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park spread rapidly into nearby communities. Strong gusts scattered embers across long distances, starting fires that fed off drought-stricken trees. The winds also knocked down power lines, igniting new fires, according to authorities.

"Everything was like a perfect storm," said Cassius Cash, superintendent of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, to CNN affiliate WATE.

Fires were at the edge of the Dollywood theme park in nearby Pigeon Forge on Tuesday morning.

"I have been watching the terrible fires in the Great Smoky Mountains and I am heartbroken.  I am praying for all the families affected by the fire and the firefighters who are working so hard to keep everyone safe. It is a blessing that my Dollywood theme park, the DreamMore Resort and so many businesses in Pigeon Forge have been spared," Dolly Parton said in a statement.