Couple 'left in empty hotel' as wildfires raged

A British couple caught up in deadly wildfires in Tennessee have told Sky News how they woke up in an empty hotel with fires burning around them after staff allegedly forgot to let them know they were evacuating.

Adrian and Lesley Hughes said they emerged from their room at the hotel in Gatlinburg to find they were the only people left in the building.

When Mr Hughes ventured outside, a firefighter told him the town had been evacuated, and that they needed to pack up their belongings and “get out”.

Seven people have now been confirmed dead and many more are missing following the outbreak of the fires on Monday.


British holidaymaker Adrian Hughes describes how he and his wife were abandoned by hotel staff in the US during evacuations due to wildfires
Video:
British couple ‘abandoned’ in burning US town

More than 14,000 people have been evacuated from the town and at least 150 buildings have been burnt to the ground.

Mr and Mrs Hughes, from Devon, said they felt “thankful to be alive” but “very angry” when they think of “how bad it could have been”.

The couple are on a road trip and had travelled from Tampa in Florida to Louisiana and then Mississippi before arriving in Tennessee on Monday afternoon.

“At about 8pm we noticed up the mountain behind the hotel, about 500 yards up, there was a line of fire,” said Mr Hughes. “The winds by this time were getting really strong, they got to about 60mph.

“From 9pm the fire just took hold. It was coming down the mountain, burning lodges, people’s homes.”


View of Gatlinburg wildfire from a vehicle on the road
Video:
Gatlinburg man films his terrifying escape from fiery mountain

The couple said they were called by a member of staff to say they were considering an evacuation at about 11pm.

After waiting for an hour for confirmation, and with heavy rain appearing to calm the fires, they said they assumed everything was fine and went to bed.

“I woke up Tuesday morning and I got dressed and popped down for a coffee and the place was locked up,” Mr Hughes said. “There was no staff, nobody there, there was no-one in the town.

“We went to bed thinking everything was fine. It wasn’t until the next morning that we found out that obviously it wasn’t.”


GATLINBURG, TN - NOVEMBER 30: The remains of a home smolder in the wake of a wildfire November 30, 2016 in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Thousands of people have been evacuated from the area and over 100 houses and businesses were damaged or destroyed. Drought conditions and high winds helped the fire spread through the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
Image Caption:
The remains of a home smoulder in the wake of the fires in Gatlinburg

The couple travelled to Pigeon Forge, a town about six miles north of Gatlinburg, driving through “horrendous” smoke with trees burning on the roadsides.

They said they spent the following day “in a daze” but are now hoping to continue their trip as they wait for answers from the hotel.

They said they were grateful to be alive.

Mr Hughes said: “There are a lot of people out there who are a lot worse off than we are … We were scared but we’re grateful that we’re okay.”

The Wyndham Hotel Group, which runs the hotel, has not yet responded to Sky’s request for a comment.

Officials have said no-one will be allowed to return to the city until Friday at the earliest because there are areas that have not been searched and power lines are down.

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