2 juveniles charged with starting deadly Gatlinburg wildfires

14 confirmed fatalities and over 2,400 confirmed structures lost or damaged in Sevier County

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4:41 p.m. Thursday

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park will officially reopen Friday, according to officials, in conjunction with the reopening of the City of Gatlinburg. Newfound Gap Road. Little River Road and several visitor areas have been closed since the fire on Monday, November 28.

Newfound Gap Road, Little River Road, the Gatlinburg Bypass, and the Spur will reopen at 7:00 a.m. on Friday. Park visitor centers at Sugarlands, Oconaluftee, and Cades Cove will resume their regularly scheduled operating hours. Cherokee Orchard Road will remain closed at this time.

A number of trails will remain closed due to fire damage: Chimney Tops Trail, Road Prong Trail, Sugarland Mountain Trail from Mt Collins Shelter to Little River Road, Huskey Gap Trail, Rough Creek Trail, Old Sugarlands Trail, Twin Creeks Trail, Baskins Creek Trail, Bull Head Trail, Rainbow Falls Trail, Trillium Gap Trail, Grapeyard Ridge Trail from Campsite 32 to Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, Gatlinburg Trail, Cove Mountain Trail, Sugarland Valley Nature Trail, Noah Bud Ogle Nature Trail, Cove Hardwood Nature Trail, the Sugarlands Horse Concession trails, and the quiet walkways along Newfound Gap Road.

Several upcoming park events have been postponed or cancelled. The Festival of Christmas Past, scheduled for December 10, has been cancelled. The Hike 100 Centennial Challenge celebration, scheduled for December 9 at the Gatlinburg Convention Center, has been postponed.  The Holiday Homecoming at the Oconaluftee Mountain Farm will take place as planned on December 17.

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1:53 p.m. Thursday

Wiley Oakley and Cliff Branch Roads are now open. The Spur, or Highway 441 is currently open to delivery vehicles. Officials say it will officially open Friday.

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GATLINBURG (WATE) – TBI Director Mark Gwyn announced Wednesday two juveniles have been charged with starting the deadly wildfires in Sevier County. The two were arrested Wednesday morning and charged with aggravated arson. They are being held in the Sevier County Juvenile Detention Center. A detention hearing is scheduled within 72 hours and additional charges could be filed.

District Attorney General Jimmy Dunn says it is being considered whether to transfer the case to adult court. Dunn says the two are from Tennessee, but not from Sevier County.

Officials say the two had a role in starting the fire on November 23 in the Chimney Tops, which eventually spread to Gatlinburg and the surrounding area, leading to 14 people’s deaths. Twelve people died in the fire, a 13th person died from a heart attack while trying to flee the fires and a 14th person died in a car accident while trying to evacuate.

The number of structures damaged or destroyed in the Sevier County wildfires has risen to 2,460. The number of people injured or who became ill as a result of the fires is 176. The Chimney Top 2 Fire remains 64 percent contained and the Cobbly Nob fire is 67 percent contained.

WILDFIRE QUICK FACTS

  • 2 juveniles charged in connection with starting fire
  • 14 dead as of Friday night, 12 dead from fire, 1 from heart attack while fleeing fire and 1 died from injuries sustained while fleeing the fire
  • At least 191 injured
  • 2,460 buildings damaged or destroyed
  • The Chimney Tops 2 fire is 82% contained
  • The Cobbly Nob fires is 89% contained
  • Gatlinburg reopens Friday
  • Sevier County schools open except Pi Beta Phi Elementary
  • 154 people remain in Red Cross shelters
  • Get details on volunteering by visiting volunteeretn.org

Of the fourteen deaths, 13 victims have been identified. Those victims are:

  • Elaine Brown, 81
  • Alice Hagler, 70
  • Constance Reed, 34
  • Lily Reed, 9
  • Chloe Reed, 12
  • Jon Summers, 61
  • Janet Summers, 61
  • Reverand Ed Taylor, 85
  • John Tegler, 71
  • Marilyn Tegler, 70
  • May Vance, 75
  • Bradley Phillips, 59
  • Robert Hejny, 63

More details: Victims identified in Sevier County wildfires

Governor Bill Haslam said this is the largest fire in 100 years in Tennessee. Gatlinburg city administrators said any mobile device in Gatlinburg got emergency notice about fire at 9:04 pm Monday. The National Weather Service says no mobile alert went out. Leaders said they are looking into why some people didn’t get alerts and examining their evacuation procedures.

 

More Wildfire Coverage

Missing people

There are 176 people injured related to the fire, according to the National Park Service. Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is continuing to follow-up on leads for missing persons.

Officials say they have developed a number of leads that have resulted in missing persons being found. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has established a hotline to coordinate reports of missing persons in the areas affected by the recent wildfires in East Tennessee. Those wishing to report missing individuals believed to be in the affected areas of Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Wears Valley may contact 1-800-TBI-FIND.

“Since our hotline has been established yesterday morning, we received 100 phone calls,” said an agent from TBI in a statement. “We are following up on approximately 70 leads.”

Returning to Gatlinburg

The city of Gatlinburg plans to reopen for business and to the general public on Friday at 7 a.m.

Major roadways are expected to be open, but some may remain closed to accommodate utility work. Wiley Oakley Drive and Cliff Branch Road remain inaccessible due to critical utility work. Utility work on Greystone Heights Road has been completed and will be open on Tuesday.

Haslam said insurance companies are set up at the Boyds Bear so that homeowners and business owners can make claims. Supplies, including toiletries, clothes, food and water are available for those who need them at that location from 9 to 6 on Saturday and 1 to 6 on Sunday.

On Wednesday, property owners, business owners, renters and lease holders will be allowed to return to full-time occupancy beginning at 7 a.m. through the East Parkway access point. The curfew will change from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. on both Wednesday and Thursday.

Shelters

Evacuations began Monday night in Gatlinburg and eventually spread to parts of Pigeon Forge. The Pigeon Forge evacuation was lifted the following day, but Gatlinburg west of the post office remains evacuated. TEMA estimates more than 14,000 residents and visitors evacuated.

Sixteen people are staying in the Pigeon Forge Community Center while 250 people are staying at Rocky Top Sports World, both of which are Red Cross shelters.

More: How to help: Smoky Mountain fire evacuees

Barker Lounge is open for dogs and Douglas Lakeview Stables at 1650 Providence Road in Sevierville is taking in livestock. A number of other places opened their doors to evacuees but have either closed or people are no longer using their services.

Sevier County Schools opened Friday except for Pi Beta Phi Elementary and Gatlinburg-Pittman High School. Gatlinburg-Pittman High reopened on Monday. Pi Beta Phi K-5 students return on Wednesday, December 7, at the old Pittman Center School building. Sixth graders will be at the Eugene W. Huskey Environmental Center. Seventh and eighth grade students will be at the state-of-the-art Boys and Girls Club of Gatlinburg facility.

National and state response

Gov. Bill Haslam has issued an executive order suspending certain state laws in order to ensure wildfire and severe weather disaster survivors have access to important health care services, consumer rights protections, and availability of state services as they recover.

The White House says President Obama has called Gov. Haslam Wednesday night to express his concern and support about the fires in Gatlinburg.

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President-elect Donald Trump issued a statement Tuesday night. Haslam said he has spoken with both trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence.

Fee/Hedrick Family Entertainment Group is donating $100,000 for food, housing, clothing and other needs for families after the fires. Dolly Parton has announced she has set up the “My People Fund” to help provide families who lost everything in the fire with $1,000 for six months to help them get back on their feet.

“I have been watching the terrible fires in the Great Smoky Mountains and I am heartbroken. I am praying for all the families affected by the fire and the firefighters who are working so hard to keep everyone safe. It is a blessing that my Dollywood theme park, the DreamMore Resort and so many businesses in Pigeon Forge have been spared.” – Dolly Parton

 

 

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