Thousands of animals left behind at Ripley’s Aquarium as wildfires hit Gatlinburg

GATLINBURG, Tenn. (AP) - Workers at an aquarium evacuated because of wildfires around Gatlinburg, Tennessee, are concerned about the thousands of animals housed there.

Ryan DeSears, general manager of Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies, tells WBIR-TV that the building was still standing and all workers had been evacuated late Monday. However, he said workers were anxious to return to check on the well-being of the 10,518 animals.

DeSears says the animals should be safe as long as the building has power and doesn't catch fire. When the facility is functioning properly, the animals can survive for 24 hours without human intervention. He said the animals were behaving normally when he left the building.

Tennessee officials say thousands of residents and visitors in the Gatlinburg area have been evacuated and hundreds of structures have been damaged and destroyed by spreading wildfires.

In a news release Tuesday morning, authorities say three people who suffered severe burns have been transferred from a Knoxville hospital to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, which has a burn unit. A fourth person is being treated for facial burns in Knoxville.

The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency says hundreds of firefighters as well as local and state personnel and National Guard troops have been sent in to help fight the blaze and check on people.

Officials say about 14,000 residents and visitors were evacuated from Gatlinburg alone.

According to the news release, preliminary surveys indicate that Westgate Resorts with more than 100 buildings and Ober Gatlinburg are both likely destroyed.


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Information from: WBIR-TV, http://www.wbir.com/