Tennessee Fires: Two Youths Charged For Fatal Fire That Destroyed Much Of Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge

Two juveniles have been charged with aggravated arson in connection with the deadly Smoky Mountain forest fires that claimed 14 lives and damaged or destroyed hundreds of structures, CNN is reporting.

At a Wednesday news conference, 4th District Attorney General James Dunn announced the arrests of the two youths. Neither their ages or genders were revealed because they are juveniles. However, Dunn left open the possibility of transferring the cases to adult court, in which case their names could be revealed. Further, says Dunn, additional charges may be forthcoming.

“Everything is on the table.”

The two are currently being held at the Sevier County Juvenile Detention Center.

Speaking to WBIR (Knoxville), Mark Gwyn, director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, praised the work of those whose efforts led to the arrests.

“Numerous hours have gone into conducting interviews and investigating this incident from every angle. [State and local agencies] have been working tirelessly.”

As of this writing, it is not clear what information led to the arrests.

The 2016 Great Smoky Mountains Wildfires, as they’ve come to be known, began on November 28, 2016.

The remains of a structure destroyed by the Tennessee fires. [Image by Mark Humphrey/AP Images]

Not long afterward, the fires had reached the neighboring resort towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. Though both are small towns, each with only a few thousand residents, they are both popular tourist communities who flock to the area for the stunning views of the Great Smoky Mountains, as well as several attractions in the area, including the Dollywood amusement park. Fortunately, the fire struck long after the heart of tourist season, when there would have been tens of thousands of people in area hotels and rental homes. Still, there were plenty of tourists in the area when the fire struck.

As KXAN (Austin) reported at the time, several dozen such tourists were trapped inside a Gatlinburg hotel when the fires were at their worst. Logan Baxter and his family had just checked into the Gatlinburg Park Vista Hotel when the building started filling with smoke. There was no way for him or the other guests or employees to leave.

“The only road to get down from the hotel, trees had fallen down in the road and were just engulfed in flames. Then the flames came up into the parking lot and then told us we all had stay inside.”

As 80 mile-per-hour winds whipped up the flames, the entire hotel began to fill up with smoke, and Baxter and the others trapped in the hotel were starting to fear they would suffocate. Fortunately, firefighters were able to break the windows in the upper floors of the hotel, allowing the smoke to escape and bringing fresh air into the building.

“They’ve had firefighters come in here and the firefighters told us for the time being it’s just too dangerous to evacuate. We can’t go outside. The firefighters said the wind is blowing at 80 miles per hour and the debris in the air is too hard to get us down right now.”

Fortunately, everyone in the hotel survived. Others in the area weren’t as lucky; when the smoke had cleared, the Tennessee fire had claimed 14 lives, injured 134 people, and damaged or destroyed 1,600 buildings.

The remains of the Alamo Steakhouse, one of 1,600 structures destroyed in the Tennessee Fires. [Image by Jonathan Mattise/AP]

Wildfires continue to rage in the Great Smoky Mountains; however, thanks to heavy rains, combined with the efforts of firefighters, have largely contained them.

This is a developing story. More information about the arrests of the youths in connection with the Tennessee fires will be provided as it becomes available.

[Featured Image by Adam Beam/AP Photo]

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