Tennessee authorities have arrested two juveniles in connection with the lethal Gatlinburg fire responsible for at least 14 deaths and over 1,000 destroyed buildings.
Authorities have released little information regarding the two suspects behind the Gatlinburg fire due to state law. They did confirm that the two individuals were not from Sevier County, but were from Tennessee.
State law prohibits public access to juvenile records except in the case of rape and murder. The suspects have not yet been charged with murder, despite 14 fatalities due to the Gatlinburg fire, so the information is not public. If the case is moved to a criminal court, then the court records will become public.
The Gatlinburg fire has been among the most lethal in the United States in recent history. InciWeb reports as of December 12,
“· To date, there are 14 confirmed fatalities.
· To date, there have been 176 injuries/illnesses.
· 2,460 structures have been damaged or destroyed by the fire.”
The Gatlinburg fire is not yet fully contained but is close, with InciWeb claiming, “Containment has increased to 91% on Chimney Tops 2 and to 92% on Cobbly Nob.” Recent rainfall has assisted the firefighters in containing the blazes.
The pair of arsonists face aggravated arson charges, and additional charges may be forthcoming. The Gatlinburg fire starters may also be tried as adults.
The juveniles are being held in custody in Sevier County, while they await a bond hearing to determine if they will be held without bond, released, or released on bond. The suspects are entitled to the hearing within 72 hours of their arrest.
WCVB reports that Mark Gwyn, the director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, told victims of the Gatlinburg fire, “We stand with you, and are committed to seeing justice served in this case.”
The authorities received critical information regarding the source and those responsible for starting the Gatlinburg fire via the public tip line.
Fortunately, with the majority of the Gatlinburg fire contained, the city and The Great Smoky Mountains National Park are opening up again. The city officially reopened at around 7 a.m. on December 9.
Residents are quietly hopeful that everything will get back to normal. Gatlinburg thrives on its tourist economy, and will likely struggle without a significant return of visitors.
Joey O’Neill, supervisor of Ripley’s 5D Theater, told WKRN, “We would kindly ask that you all come back here and visit us…. I know that seems to be asking a lot, but spring break, summer vacation and Christmas is our economy here. If you could please come back, that’s all we can ask.”
Fortunately, the main business corridor in the downtown area was spared much of the smoke and damage from the Gatlinburg fire, and it seems that a fair number of both patrons and workers have returned.
Many residents have lost their homes due to the Gatlinburg fire, and many of them have been without work for the past two weeks as the city and surrounding area was shutdown for safety reasons. The city of about 4,000 draws in over 11 million people each year, and the Gatlinburg fire has been painful for not just the direct victims but also for the economy.
The cleanup is ongoing. The sheer volume of smoke from the Gatlinburg fire contaminated thousands more buildings that were destroyed or damaged. In restaurants where food is served, this has resulted in massive losses.
Shana Laws, a supervisor at a local restaurant, told the Daily Journal, “The shop had to throw out all of the chocolates and fudges, weighing all of it to file an insurance claim.” Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge have many tourist restaurants which will no doubt need to follow suit.
[Featured Image by Brian Blanco/Getty Images]