LATEST UPDATES: 14 dead, 191 injured in Sevier Co. wildfires
Officials confirmed that 14 people are dead and 191 people were injured in the heartbreaking Sevier County wildfires.
2,460 structures have been damaged or destroyed. 1,123 residential structures were destroyed in the county, 981 in Gatlinburg, and 17 in Pigeon Forge. 53 commercial structures were destroyed in Gatlinburg, 5 in the county, and zero in Pigeon Forge. 7 residential structures in the county have major damage, 7 in Gatlinburg, and none in Pigeon Forge. 3 commercial structures in Gatlinburg have major damage. 42 residential structures in the county have minor damage and 29 in Gatlinburg. 1 commercial structure in the county and 1 in Gatlinburg have minor damage. 126 residential structures in the county were affected by the fires, 54 in Gatlinburg, and 1 in Pigeon Forge. 9 commercial structures in Gatlinburg and 1 in the county were affected. At a press conference on Tuesday, Mayor Waters told media outlets that the fires caused more than an estimated $500 million in damages.
As of Tuesday, 6 hand crews, 15 engines, 1 helicopter, 209 total personnel were fighting the Chimney Top 2 Fire as a part of the Type 1 Federal Incident Management Team. The Chimney Top 2 Fire was estimated to be 94% contained with 17,140 acres, and the Cobbly Nob Fire was estimated to be 96% contained with 764 acres. Mayor Waters said all fires have been extinguished.
Authorities told media outlets Wednesday that two juveniles have been charged with aggravated arson for allegedly starting the Sevier Co. wildfires. The juveniles are not from Sevier County, but are from Tennessee. The investigation is ongoing.
The Water Boil Advisory is still in effect for the following areas in Gatlinburg: Greystone Heights, Smoky View Road and Campbell Lead, Cliff Branch Road (inside the city) and the portion of Wiley Oakley Drive between Ski View Drive and Compbell Lead Road. The Water Boil Advisory was lifted for the downtown area.
As of Friday, water had been re-established and the following areas were added to the boil water advisory: Kings Way, Colt Lane, Loop Road, Topside Road and Drive, Little Fox Road, Forest Springs Drive, Foothills Drive, Stone Fence Lane, Spring Drive, Silverbell Heights, the 300 block of Silverbell Lane, Chimney Tops Way, Abrams Falls Way and Parsons Branch Way.
City leaders identified some of the people who died as a result of the wildfires.
Elaine Brown, 81, died after she sustained a medical event that caused a multi-vehicle accidents on Wears Valley Road while fleeing the fire.
Edward Taylor, 85, unknown address; Bradley Phillips, age 59, discovered at 412 Long Hollow Road; and Constance Reed, age 34, Chloe Reed, age 12, and Lily Reed, age 9, discovered at 347 Wiley Oakley Drive.
John Tegler, 71, and Marilyn Tegler, 70, were dual citizens from Woodstock, Ontario, but owned a vacation home on North Skyline Drive in Chalet Village. Their son, Scott, was notified at 6 p.m. on December 1. Their son-in-law, Dave Lapointe told CBC News that the couple had been living in the U.S. for about 20 years.
Jon Summers, 61, and Janet Summers, 61, were from Memphis, Tennessee. They were staying in Chalet Village on Crooked Ridge Road. Their three sons Paul, Shawn, and Phillip were sent to the burn unit at Vanderbilt Medical Center. One of the brothers was released from the hospital while the other two are still being treated for burns. Jon's brother, Jim, was notified at 5:40 p.m. on December 1.
Officials said May Vance died of a heart attack in the wildfires and did not release further information. Vance is from Gatlinburg.
Officials identified Robert A. Hejny, 63, who was found at Traveler's Motel in Gatlinburg.
The family of Alice Hagler confirmed to Local 8 News Thursday morning that she passed away. Officials confirmed her death on Friday afternoon. Hagler was reported missing Tuesday; she was last seen at her home on Piney Butt Loop in Gatlinburg.
Officials said three people were found dead from fires in the Chalet Village area, and one person was discovered dead near a motel on Highway 321. Three more people were found dead on Campbell Lead Road. Authorities did not release details about the other fatalities.
Two others were rescued safely at Westgate Resorts and one person was rescued on Ski Mountain.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said it received over 100 phone calls, since it established a hotline, 1-800-TBI-FIND, for people to call with reports of missing loved ones. Agents closed more than 150 leads on missing persons.
On Wednesday, December 7, property owners, business owners, renters, and lease holders were allowed to return to full-time occupancy beginning at 7:00 a.m. through the East Parkway (Hwy. 321) entry point. 13 people are staying at the Red Cross shelter.
Officials said there is a temporary landfill site for damaged property next to the current landfill on Ridge Road.
The City of Gatlinburg reopened for business and to the general public on Friday, December 9 at 7 a.m. Major roadways were opened, but some city roadways remained closed for utility work.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park officially reopened to the public on Friday, December 9 in conjunction with the reopening of the city of Gatlinburg. Newfound Gap Road, Little River Road, and several visitor areas have were closed since the evening of Monday, November 28 due to the Chimney Tops 2 wildfire. The Spur between Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg is open from Pigeon Forge to the Gatlinburg Welcome Center. Wiley Oakley and Cliff Branch Roads are now open.
The following trails are closed due to wind or fire damage: Chimney Tops Trail, Road Prong Trail, Sugarland Mountain Trail from Mt Collins Shelter to Little River Road, Huskey Gap Trail, Rough Creek Trail, Old Sugarlands Trail, Twin Creeks Trail, Baskins Creek Trail, Bull Head Trail, Rainbow Falls Trail, Trillium Gap Trail, Grapeyard Ridge Trail from Campsite 32 to Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, Gatlinburg Trail, Cove Mountain Trail, Sugarland Valley Nature Trail, Noah Bud Ogle Nature Trail, Cove Hardwood Nature Trail, the Sugarlands Horse Concession trails, and the quiet walkways along Newfound Gap Road.
All park campsites that are normally open this time of year are open, with the exception of Campsite 21 on Huskey Gap Trail.
Cherokee Orchard Road in Great Smoky Mountains National Park remains closed.
Several upcoming park events were postponed or cancelled. The Festival of Christmas Past, scheduled for December 10, was cancelled. The Hike 100 Centennial Challenge celebration, scheduled for December 9 at the Gatlinburg Convention Center, was postponed. The Holiday Homecoming at the Oconaluftee Mountain Farm will take place as planned on December 17.
A mandatory evacuation order was issued on November 28 for downtown Gatlinburg residents and guests after TEMA issued a Level 3 State of Emergency with 70 homes in Wears Valley, 70 homes in Cobbly Nob, and 150 structures damaged or destroyed by fire in Sevier County, including a 16-story hotel on Regan Drive, and the Driftwood Apartments near the Park Vista Hotel. The mandatory emergency evacuation for Pigeon Forge was lifted Tuesday. The National Guard was mobilized to Sevier County.
TEMA reports that 14,000 people evacuated Sevier County on November 28. Officials say mass evacuation notifications went out on cell phones at 9:04 p.m. on November 28.
All Sevier County Schools have reopened with the exception of Pi Beta Phi Elementary School. Officials announced that Pi Beta Phi Elementary had minor damage and smoke damage.
Officials with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park issued an air quality advisory and closed the park on November 28. According to an update from GSMNP on November 29, park officials reported "widespread fire damage" and continued fire activity throughout the Gatlinburg area and much of Sevier County including Wears Valley, Pigeon Forge and Jones Cove.
Investigators say the Chimney 2 fire started on November 23 on the north spire of the Chimney Tops. The incident commander returned the next morning and determined that a fire line was not needed. Investigators saw small growth Saturday. Winds picked up and additional firefighters and helicopters were ordered Sunday. The GSMNP Deputy Superintendent said the fire did not pose a threat to the public before the wind picked up. Spot fires spread outside the containment area on November 27. At 11:35 a.m. Monday, officials noticed a spot fire near Twin Creek that crossed drainages. The fire spread to the North as the Gatlinburg Fire Department prepared to battle the South end of the city. The Gatlinburg fire chief told media outlets the fire projections showed there would be no spread to Gatlinburg until midday Tuesday.
Officials say door to door evacuations started in Mynatt Park on Monday afternoon. At 6:27 p.m. other mandatory evacuations were made in the area. Ski Mountain was added to the mandatory evacuations list at 8 p.m. Monday. The Gatlinburg Fire Chief said TEMA did not send out a mass evacuation alert because the verbiage was not correct and cell phone towers crashed, making it difficult to communicate. A siren alarm system was used to evacuate the Gatlinburg area.
Mayor Waters said the state law needs to be changed to allow county mayors to order mandatory evacuations.