The latest Gatlinburg fire death toll has risen as National Guard and emergency personnel continued to search through damaged areas in Tennessee. The fire was said to have started this past Monday night as wildfire embers from Chimney Tops Trail in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park started to blow into the area. From there, flames increased and swept through the Gatlinburg area causing widespread damage and a number of deaths. The cause of the fire is still under investigation as of this report, but officials have said the fire appears to have been man-made.
According to a Knoxville News Sentinel report from Friday, the Gatlinburg wildfire death toll is now at 13 deaths after it was reported that an individual had died of a heart attack while trying to escape the fire. Officials had indicated that they hoped to have searched through about 90 percent of the areas affected by the Tennessee fires as of Friday evening. There were still individuals being reported as missing by friends and family as of then.
Among the deceased individuals named via USA Today in their report are 70-year-old Alice Hagler of Gatlinburg, 75-year-old Mary Vance, Jon and Janet Summers from Memphis, as well as John and Janet Tegler who were visiting the area from Canada. As of Saturday, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported that a missing mother, Constance Reed, was also among those confirmed dead. Reed’s two daughters, Chloe, age 12, and Lily, age 9, were still said to be among those missing.
Residents of the damaged areas in Tennessee began to return to their homes in the aftermath of the wildfire.The fire initially caused thousands of people to evacuate the area with more than 100 houses and businesses said to have been either damaged or destroyed. As Johnson City Press noted, the public information director of Gatlinburg Marcia Claude gave specific information regarding who would be permitted to enter into the area.
Claude noted that business owners, property renters, or lessees in the area were allowed to go into the downtown area first to inspect business and recover any necessary equipment.
She added that residents of the area would also be permitted into the area.
“Then also, residents are being allowed in to see their properties today. They are required to meet at the police checkpoint that is here on Highway 321 close to the post office, next to the Food City. You’re required to show proper identification of where your property is.”
Gatlinburg, Tennessee is known as a resort area, frequented by many individuals on vacation. It includes the Great Smoky Mountains National Park which is where Chimney Tops Trail is located. Five miles north of the area is Pigeon Forge, a mountain resort city located in Sevier County. The resort city includes the famous Dixie Stampede Theater, and Dollywood, a theme park owned by country singer and actress Dolly Parton. A variety of other events and attractions are taken in by those visiting the area. As of this report, it appears that Pigeon Forge businesses were not damaged by the fire.
As mentioned, the cause of the devastating fire is still unknown at this point. According to Citizen Times in their latest report, the fire which began to rage on Monday night “appears to be human-caused.” Both the National Park Service Investigative Branch Services, as well as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are continuing to investigate the fire.
The Chimney Tops park is also asking for the public to provide any information they may have. They’re specifically requesting that any people who may have hiked the Chimney Tops Trail, or individuals who know anyone who hiked the area, on Wednesday, November 23, contact them.
Hikers are being asked to contact a Tip Line at 1-888-653-0009, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by tweeting to @SpecialAgentNPS in order to assist with the ongoing investigation into the Gatlinburg, Tennessee fire cause.
[Featured Image by Brian Blanco/Getty Images]