Gatlinburg Fires Deaths: At Least 14 Now Reported Killed In 'Historic' Fires That Destroyed 1,684 Structures

The Gatlinburg wildfires have now caused at least 14 deaths, according to the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

"The disaster began on Nov. 28 when hurricane-force winds topping 90 mph spread embers from a then-500 acre fire near the Chimney Tops in the Great Smoky Mountains," the News-Sentinel reports. "Downed power lines and felled trees started several new fires, and in the span of a quarter-hour, the flames raced toward Gatlinburg and beyond, forcing mandatory evacuations of the resort town and parts of Pigeon Forge."

Officials estimate that, in addition to the deaths, another 134 people sustained injuries related to the fires. They also estimate that 1,684 structures were destroyed in the fires.

Officials and news agencies are calling the fires "historic."

Elaine Brown, 81, of Sevierville is the latest fatality reported. She died in a single-vehicle accident while trying to flee the fires in the Pigeon Forge area, National Park Service spokeswoman Dana Soehn told the News-Sentinel on Sunday.

Despite the bad news about the increasing number of deaths caused by the Gatlinburg fires, there were some positive developments Sunday. Rains in the region helped to suppress the fires and prevent them from spreading further.

"The rain is doing wonders knocking down the fire behavior," Mike Proud, an incident meteorologist from South Carolina currently stationed in Pigeon Forge, told the News-Sentinel. "(It's) cooling some of the warm spots, but we still expect bigger logs and stumps to retain heat."

With the fires beginning to subside, city officials began allowing residents to return to their homes and businesses during daylight hours. However, until Gatlinburg is again open to the public, all residents must still pass through a checkpoint upon entering the town.

UPI reports that more than 600 firefighters and Tennessee National Guard members are participating in recovery efforts related to the damage caused by the Gatlinburg fires. Local NBC affiliate WREG said there are currently 23 crews, 46 engines, six helicopters, and five dozers involved in the clean up and search and rescue efforts.

Approximately 15o people remain in area shelters. It's estimated that a total of more than 17,000 acres burned in the fires.

The fires are bound to have a huge economic impact on Gatlinburg, which heavily relies on tourism. Many of the mountain town's attractions, such as Ripley's Aquarium, remain closed, according to UPI. The Dollywood Amusement Park, however, reopened Friday despite losing some of its guest cabins to the fire.

Among the other deaths were John Teglar, 71, and Janet Teglar, 70. The Teglars were visiting from Canada when the fires took their lives. Jon Summers, 61, and Janet Summers, 60, were also tourists, visiting Gatlinburg from Memphis, Tennessee, when they lost their lives. May Vance, 75, a Gatlinburg resident, died of a heart attack after suffering smoke inhalation. Alice Hagler, 70, another Gatlinburg resident, also died in the fires, according to an update from ABC News.

Those who wish to report a missing person or to report that a missing person has been found can contact the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation at 1-800-TBI-FIND. Those wishing to check to see whether or not their home or other property has been damaged can view an interactive map at www.seviercountytn.org. Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters told ABC that the map will be regularly updated and owners should review it frequently until they are able to return to their property.

Thousands of firefighters from across the United States have been fighting a series of wildfires in the southern Appalachia region for weeks, ABC affiliate WATE reports.

"The worst is in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee, but extreme drought also is spreading into the western Carolinas," according to WATE. "Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina all have fierce fires."

The 14 deaths from the Gatlinburg fires make them among the worst of the Appalachian fires in terms of human loss.

[Featured Image by Brian Blanco/Getty Images]