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Ripken Baseball monitoring Tennessee wildfire near its new, $22.5M youth complex

Ripken Baseball monitors wildfire in Gatlinburg, Tenn., near its youth sports complex.

Staff at Baltimore-based Ripken Baseball are keeping an eye on the wildfires near Gatlinburg, Tenn., that killed three people and caused thousands of residents and businesses to be evacuated this week.

The organization operates a large youth baseball complex in Pigeon Forge, about a mile from where a fire was raging Tuesday in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains.

A Ripken Baseball spokesman said Tuesday the fires hadn't yet affected the Ripken Experience Pigeon Forge but added that "we are in contact and monitoring the situation."

The U.S. Forest Service has set up a command post on the property as part of the firefighting effort, said spokesman John Maroon.

David Bounds, the general manager of the complex in Pigeon Forge, said that while they could see flames from the property, it was in a more developed area and that he was confident the complex would be safe, particularly with the U.S. Forest Service's help.

Three people have been killed in the wildfires, and Bounds said his staff was "heartbroken."

"We feel very fortunate and blessed," he said. "Our staff here, everyone's safe and accounted for. Everyone's homes are intact. It's a little surreal to know that there are individuals who have lost loved ones and homes and businesses. For that reason we feel blessed that our staff is safe, but it's a sad day for our community."

Ripken Baseball built and opened the Pigeon Forge complex in 2015, not far from Dollywood, a theme park and resort. The $22.5 million complex features six synthetic fields with lights, built to host clinics and youth tournaments — similar to the Ripken youth baseball and softball complexes in Aberdeen and Myrtle Beach, S.C.

"Our newest facility in Pigeon Forge features all of the big league amenities that teams have come to expect from the Ripken Experience," according to a description on RipkenBaseball.com.

The property is located on a swath of land on Jake Thomas Boulevard, which intersects with U.S. 441, a major highway that leads between Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg and the Smoky Mountains.

Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters confirmed the three deaths but said he didn't have any additional details. Emergency officials ordered evacuations in downtown Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge and in other areas of Sevier County near the Smoky Mountains.

Hundreds of homes and other buildings were damaged or destroyed. Officials with Dollywood said the theme park wasn't damaged but more than a dozen cabins operated by the park had been. Dollywood is just east of the Ripken Baseball facility.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

sjwelsh@baltsun.com

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