US & Canada

Country music star Dolly Parton 'heartbroken' over deadly wildfires

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Media captionDolly Parton heartbroken over wildfires

Country music star Dolly Parton says she is "heartbroken" over wildfires that have killed three people and injured 14 near her Tennessee resort.

Mandatory evacuations are under way around Gatlinburg as wildfires have set hundreds of buildings ablaze.

The fires threaten Dollywood, a theme park owned by Parton, and an aquarium housing thousands of animals.

Several southern states are battling wind-fuelled wildfires after months of drought.

Image copyright Alamy Stock Photo
Image caption Fire officials say the wildfire is "right on the doorstep" of Dollywood

"I have been watching the terrible fires in the Great Smoky Mountains and I am heartbroken," Parton said.

"I am praying for all the families affected by the fire and the firefighters who are working so hard to keep everyone safe."

Dollywood, in the mountain town of Pigeon Forge, has evacuated guests from some of its properties, with several cabins and vacation structures being damaged, a spokesman said.

Parton, 70, had appeared in a public service advertisement on Sunday, asking people nearby to take steps to prevent spreading the fire.

Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters confirmed on Tuesday afternoon that three people had died, but he did not provide further details.

The conflagration in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains was being spread by winds gusting over 80mph (128km/h).

National Guard troops began arriving early on Tuesday morning to help battle the blaze.

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Thousands of people have been evacuated so far.

Image copyright Twitter

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park sent out warnings on social media to avoid the area.

There is concern for more than 10,000 animals at an aquarium in Gatlinburg after all employees were evacuated.

The building is still standing, but "workers are anxious to return to check on the animals", the general manager of Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies, Ryan DeSears, told local media.

Facebook has activated its safety check feature.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Motorists stop to view the fires ahead of the evacuation order

A new storm system is predicted to bring high winds, which authorities say could topple dead trees and pose a threat to firefighters.

But the rainfall due to come with the weather system is not expected to end the drought.

"It's way too early to say, 'yes, this drought is over,'" said Mark Svoboda, director of the National Drought Mitigation Center in Nebraska.

"Does it put a dent in it? Yes, but we have a long ways to go."

Neighbouring Georgia as well as North and South Carolina are battling wildfires, too.

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