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Wildfire near Tennessee resort town almost out

From Joe Sutton and Ed Payne, CNN
March 18, 2013 -- Updated 1903 GMT (0303 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Rain helps put out most of wildfire near resort town in eastern Tennessee
  • NEW: Firefighters have been able to leave, as just a few hot spots remain
  • About 20 fire departments had been battling the blaze, which started Sunday as a house fire
  • Fire charred more than 35 buildings, turned propane tanks into shrapnel

(CNN) -- Heavy rains doused most of a wildfire that had damaged more than 35 buildings near the Tennessee resort town of Pigeon Forge, allowing authorities Monday to take firefighters off the line.

Only five acres were still burning Monday evening, Tennessee Emergency Management Agency Director James Bassham told CNN affiliate WATE.

A small crew remained in the area to monitor hot spots, the station said.

Earlier, authorities had evacuated more homes as high winds fanned the wildfire and caused problems for helicopters sent in to help fight the flames.

Authorities were evacuating more residents as the fire threatened 15 to 20 homes in the Priscilla Heights area of Sevier County, Tennessee, Dean Flener of the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency said.

Dozens of cabins lost in massive fire

About 150 people were evacuated Sunday and the American Red Cross opened a shelter at the Pigeon Forge Community Center. Hotels are also allowing residents to stay for free, Flener said.

About 20 fire departments had been fighting the fire, which had burned 260 acres, authorities said.

"Propane tanks have been exploding," Pigeon Forge Fire Chief Tony Watson said Sunday. "It's been real dangerous."

The blaze started as a house fire, he said.

"It looks like somebody just went through there and just dropped a bomb on the place," Shannon McCostlin told WATE. "I feel bad for them people."

The area is home to rental cabins with some permanent residences.

Pigeon Forge, in eastern Tennessee, is best known for singer Dolly Parton's theme park, Dollywood, which was not affected by the fire.

Positioned on the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains, the area also is popular with outdoors enthusiasts and has a wide variety of other attractions, including music theaters, outlet malls, go-kart tracks and miniature golf courses.

CNN's Janet DiGiacomo contributed to this report.

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