Within hours, wildfires set Tennessee mountain city aflame

Tracey Mayberry told her boss to fire her.

It was 2 o'clock Monday afternoon in Gatlinburg, and the sky was dark with smoke. Mayberry's shift as a manager at the resort where she worked did not end until 5 p.m., but she could see a wildfire crawling down the mountain. Local officials said the city had nothing to worry about, and Mayberry's boss had no plans to close. But she knew something was wrong, so she walked home, coughing and crying through the smoke until a stranger handed her a mask.

That wildfire had ignited five days earlier on a steep, rugged peak known as Chimney Tops, about 4 miles away from Gatlinburg. In less than 24 hours, aided by 87 mph winds and months of...