Gatlinburg visitor Ed Carnes got the first emergency text alert Monday night after he and his wife became stranded in a line of cars blocked by a fallen tree on a winding mountain road above town, surrounded by thick smoke and flames.

It advised people in the area to stay off the internet. Another alert soon followed with a similar warning about limiting mobile phone use to emergency calls.

Carnes, a U.S. Appeals Court judge from Montgomery, Ala., knew about the wildfire burning nearby in the Chimney Tops area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, he said. And he only learned about a voluntary evacuation urged for people in the Mynatt Park area across town while watching a TV newscast earlier that night.

But he said he never got word of the mandatory evacuation order issued for Gatlinburg before his wife opened the drapes of their condo at Highland Condominium Rentals and screamed.

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