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3 dead in eastern Tennessee fires; Gatlinburg under curfew

GATLINBURG, Tenn. -- Three people were killed in raging wildfires in Sevier County, Tenn., and officials are bracing for the possibility of more blazes overnight.

Gatlinburg Fire Chief Greg Miller said Tuesday the three people were killed in separate locations in the fires that started Monday. Miller told reporters he does not know whether there are more victims.

"We have not been able to get into all the areas," the chief said.

The wildfires have damaged or destroyed hundreds of buildings in and near eastern Tennessee's resort towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge in a dizzying 24 hours, officials said.

"People were basically running for their lives," Gatlinburg Mayor Mike Werner, who apparently lost his home to wildfires, said in describing the scene in his resort city.

The fire that sparked the dozen other blazes was "human-caused," National Park Service spokeswoman Dana Soehn said, without elaborating. The blaze is under investigation.

The National Park Service said roughly 15,000 acres have been scorched. More than 250 structures have been damaged.

Officials said they are not certain when residents will be able to return to evacuated neighborhoods. A curfew was imposed for 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Werner said destroyed properties in many cases are next to properties that appear untouched or with little damage.

Responders still are trying to evaluate the destruction caused by the flames that spread with little warning from the Great Smoky Mountains.

"Ash was raining down like snow," said Jonathan Frye, who evacuated his home Monday night with his wife and children.

Frye is a chef at Dollywood and lives just a few miles from the park. He said the smoke was so thick it was hard to see the car in front of him as he drove away from the fires, which he could see from his doorstep. His home was not damaged.

Some major tourist attractions appeared to have been spared by the fires, and Miller said earlier that the worst appeared to be over Tuesday morning.

Strong winds pushed the fires from the mountains into the more-inhabited areas Monday afternoon, destroying the homes and businesses in the Gatlinburg area, officials said.

Wildfires have burned in parts of the Southeast for weeks, fueled by the region's worst drought in nearly a decade.