7 confirmed dead in Gatlinburg wildfires

 

GATLINBURG, Tenn. -- A Tennessee mayor said three more bodies have been recovered after the wildfires in the Great Smoky Mountains, bringing the death toll to seven on Wednesday.
               
Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters said Wednesday that officials believe more than 400 buildings have been damaged in the county. He also noted that three people who were trapped after the wildfires Monday night have been rescued. He did not go into details about the rescue, and said authorities have not positively identified the dead.
               
He says search-and-rescue missions are ongoing.

A firefighter also was hurt fighting the blaze, Waters said. The search continues for others who might have been killed or injured but not discovered because of blocked roads and power outages.

"We are trying to get into every area," Waters said. "Those efforts will continue today."

Eight new fires erupted Tuesday into Wednesday, Gatlinburg Fire Chief Greg Miller said. The heavy rains that followed the fires have created new challenges as firefighters continue to check hot spots and assess damages.


"We're experiencing small rockslides and mudslides as we have to go back into areas we previously thought were accessible," the chief said.

The blaze apparently began when embers from a wildfire on nearby Chimney Tops Trail in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park wafted into the Twin Creek and Mynatt Park areas of town Monday night as the already heavy winds doubled in speed, the fire chief said. The resulting flames swept through Gatlinburg in less than a quarter-hour, fanned by winds at speeds that approached 90 mph.

At least 14 people suffered fire-related injuries, four of them serious.

More than 14,000 people had been forced to leave Gatlinburg alone, and about 500 from Pigeon Forge, officials estimated. More than 2,000 people had been taken to emergency shelters.

Ken Lewis, manager of Red Cross shelter at Rocky Top Sports World in Gatlinburg, said Wednesday morning that there were 200 people at the shelter, down from a peak of 700 on Tuesday.

Lewis said a lot of evacuees have been able to connect with friends and family and find a place to stay.

Inside the shelter there are stacks of food, bottled water, personal hygiene items and diapers. Local restaurants have donated hot prepared food as well.

The shelter also has an abundance of pet food and pet supplies.

"We had trucks and supplies coming in all day long," Lewis said.

He said right now it's to the point that the shelter has too much and they're trying to channel some of the items back into the community.

"If people want to help, we've got everything we need right now," Lewis said.

He recommended people make donations to the Red Cross or other local community agencies that are assisting people.

"That'd be the best thing to help right now," Lewis said.

News of the fires has brought condolences and offers of support pouring into East Tennessee from around the country, including from President-Elect Donald Trump and former Vice President and onetime Tennessee senator Al Gore.

Knoxville News Sentinel


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