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September 23, 2017

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'Dollywood' theme park at risk as wildfires rage in southern US

WASHINGTON--Wildfires raging across the U.S. southeast are bearing down on Dollywood, the glitzy theme park founded in Tennessee by American country music legend Dolly Parton.

Officials said dozens of fires are burning in the state, fanned by high winds and fueled by parched vegetation after weeks of drought.

Dollywood, located near the Smoky Mountains National Park, is one of several popular resort attractions in east Tennessee threatened by the fires.

Parton released a public service announcement on Sunday urging visitors and residents of the region to exercise caution when handling fire, even as the blaze was nearing her iconic theme park.

"I love these Smoky Mountains that I call home, and I know you do too. Help protect their beauty and prevent human-caused wild fires," Parton, 70, says in the ad.

News reports said portions of Dollywood have been evacuated as wind speeds top 70 miles (110 kilometers) per hour in some parts of Tennessee, which has been hit by the worst drought in nearly a decade.

Her 295-acre (120-hectare) amusement resort is one of the region's most popular draws with rides and musical events that sometimes include appearances by Parton and her family.

Tennessee's Department of Agriculture, which is responsible for maintaining the state's forests, said Tuesday there are 47 active fires that so far have consumed nearly 15,000 acres.

Hundreds of firefighters, meanwhile, have descended in the town of Gatlinburg, a popular tourist resort and a gateway to the Smoky Mountains, to coordinate efforts to extinguish the fires.

News reports there said several homes and businesses in the town have been destroyed, including a 16-story hotel, and hundreds of other properties have been evacuated.

"The state is providing coordinated resources, including Nat'l Guard, to help Gatlinburg, all those affected by devastating fires," Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam wrote in a tweet on Tuesday.

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