Late Monday evening on November 28th firefighters from all throughout the East Tennessee region were heading to the popular tourist area of Gatlinburg to help put out wildfires that have spread to the area. Many were stationed outside of Dolly Parton’s theme park Dollywood in order to protect the multi-million-dollar attraction while others worked to control the fire that was surrounding one of Gatlinburg’s other top attractions, Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies.
Residents, tourists, and employees of the area were forced to evacuate as the fires left heavy smoke and a ghostly orange fog in downtown Gatlinburg. The visitors who were staying at the new Dollywood DreamMore Luxury Resort were also evacuated, however the building has not been affected at this time. Pictures started showing up on Facebook and Twitter of popular tourist sites in flames, such as a small wedding chapel where many people in the surrounding areas were married.
Flames Surround Ripley’s Aquarium as Workers are Forced to Leave Thousands of Animals Behind
In one of the most devastating stories of the night, as the fires had engulfed at least 30 structures in Gatlinburg, one building that people were most concerned with was Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies.
As of midnight Tuesday, the General Manager of the aquarium, Ryan DeSear, told the local news channel, 10News that the building was still standing, and that all workers were evacuated, but he is very concerned about the 10,518 animals that were left behind.
DeSear was one of the last people out of the building at 7:45 p.m. on Monday,, and he said he had to force many of the workers to leave because they didn’t want to leave the animals without help.
“They were force evacuated,” DeSear said. “To them, every animal has a name. You don’t give that up.”
Unfortunately, he said “Nothing is more important than human life. Fish can be replaced. It sucks.”
DeSear said that as long as the building had electricity and it didn’t catch fire, the animals should be safe. When everything is functioning normally the animals can survive for up to 24 hours without human intervention. The clock would start ticking as soon as the power goes out.
Before he left the aquarium, he did a final check on the animals and said they were all behaving normaly. HE took that as a good sign because animals have a special sense of danger, and none appeared to be affected by the ordeal.
But DeSear and everyone who cares for the aquatic and animal life at the aquarium are very anxious to get back to them.
“We need to be one of the first people allowed back in when it’s safe,” he said. “I hope the people manning the checkpoint here our plea.”
Update as of 6:30 A.M. on Tuesday
Ripley’s Attractions General Manager Ryan DeSear said that he wasn’t sure if flames reached Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. Desear said that the aquarium’s live web camera was still active and the building was still standing.
“As long as we have fuel in our generators, that aquarium can run on its own.” DeSear said.
DeSear said a “raging fire” was about 50 yards away from the aquarium when workers were evacuated on Monday night.
Workers at the aquarium were evacuated mostly due to smoke, according to DeSear. The latest reports say that all the animals are safe, and that the aquarium is closed today.
About Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies
Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is part of the Ripley Entertainment group which was created by the success of Ripley’s Believe it or Not! The company is owned by the Jim Pattison Group and has its main headquarters in Orange County, Florida.
The aquarium has all types of sea oddities inside for visitors to enjoy. There is also the opportunity to pet and swim with stingrays.
Built on the foundation of the small daily newspaper cartoon that was drawn by Robert Ripley. Which debuted in 1918, the company today has more than 90 attractions under a dozen brands worldwide.
For more than 95 years, Ripley Entertainment has been a provider of family entertainment. The daily Believe it or Not! Cartoon that rose Ripley to fame in the 1920s still runs in hundreds of newspapers in more than 40 countries today.
Gatlinburg is home to several Ripley attractions including the aquarium, the town is also home to Ripley’s Haunted Adventure, Ripley’s 3D Moving Theater, Ripley’s Marvelous Mirror Maze and Candy Factory, Ripley’s Davy Crockett Mini-Golf, Ripley’s Old MacDonald’s Farm Mini-Golf, Ripley’s Guinness World Records Museum and the Ripley’s Believe it or Not! Odditorium.