The Latest: Death toll rises to 12 in largest fire in Tennessee in over 100 years

By: Greg Coy

Updated:

GATLINBURG, Tenn. -  Wildfires in the area of Gatlinburg, Tenn., are continuing to wreak havoc. Eleven people are confirmed dead, and 80 people were injured. Alice Hagler has been identified as one of the twelve victims killed. 

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  • Hundreds of homes, other buildings destroyed
  • Twelve people killed; 80 injured
  • 14,000 have been evacuated
  • Smell of smoke in the Miami Valley is from Tenn. wildfires
  • More than 1,000 building destroyed

FRIDAY UPDATES: 

10:00 a.m. News Conference:

  • Death toll rises to 12 people killed in devastating fires; 13thperson died of heart attack while trying to escape
  • 90% of properties damaged in wildfires have been assessed
  • Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters says 1,000 properties were damaged in wildfires
  • Local officials says those interested in volunteering  www.volunteertn.gov
  • A press conference will be held Friday at 3 p.m. 

MISSING MEMPHIS COUPLE:

A Memphis couple was found dead, and their three children were injured, after wildfires swept through Gatlinburg while they were vacationing in the mountains.

Their three sons – Jared, Branson, and Wesley Summers – are all recovering at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s burn unit and hospital.

THURSDAY UPDATES: 
 
3:10 p.m. News Conference
  • Tennessee mayor says death toll from wildfires earlier this week has increased to 10
  • The total injured has increased to 80
  • SevierCounty will open roads and county offices on Friday.  People can check their property in almost all areas.
  • No identities have been given
10:00 a.m. News Conference:
  • More than 17,100 acres burned in state park because of fire.  The rain on Tuesday was not enough to stop the fires. 
  • Investigators are unable to give an update on the missing Memphis couple
  • Officials hope to allow property owners to see their buildings by next week
  • The area has been divided into four zones. Two of those zones have yet to be assessed 
  • At time county officials say they will not be identifying any victims 
  • 74 people received treatment, their conditions are unknown 

 

 

New Overnight: 
Alice Hagler has been identified as one of the seven victims killed in the wildfires that swept though parts of East Tennessee.
 
WEDNESDAY UPDATES:
 
UPDATE@3:30 p.m.

Officials have discovered an additional three bodies, bringing the total to seven. The three bodies were found at the same residence, officials said. They are working to identify the victims, a spokesman said during a press conference.


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In addition, first responders this afternoon rescued three people who were trapped by the fire, and all have been cleared medically and released, a spokesperson said.

More than 700 structures have been damaged in the fire so far, officials said, noting that the heavy rain in the area this afternoon has been helpful. In addition, about 15,738 acres have been burned so far, officials said.

A 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew will remain in effect, the mayor said.

>>Tennessee officials urging people to use caution when giving to Gatlinburg fire victims 

Officials have established a hotline for families to call to help locate loved ones they talk to on a regularly but have not been able to reach them since the fire started. They should call 1-800-TBI-FIND (824-3463).

Also, Gatlinburg schools will be opened Thursday and grief counselors will be available at the schools for students and faculty, officials said.

The total number of people who have been treated is not up to 53, officials said.

Several first responders have lost their homes, although city officials don’t know yet how many, the fire chief said.

Most of the fire in the city of Gatlinburg has been contained, with the exception of one structure fire that was discovered this afternoon, the chief said, noting that some could rekindle.

Officials said the fire was likely started by a person, and they are working to find the cause.

UPDATE@11:07 a.m.:

A fourth body was found at a motel this morning and a total of 45 people have been hospitalized, Gatlinburg government officials said during a press conference Wednesday morning. There are still people who are unaccounted for, rescuers are making every efforts to reconnect people with their loved ones as soon as possible, officials said.

Gatlinburg Fire Chief Greg Miller said there are currently more than 200 firefighters on the ground working to contain the fires. There were eight new fires overnight, most of which were brush fires because of high winds, and there was one structure fire, he said. In addition, trees are falling and taking down power lines that are hindering their ability to get to certain areas and fight fires, he said.

“A new challenge the weather is creating for us after the fires is that we are experiencing mud slides, so we have to go back to areas where we thought were taken care off,” Miller said. He said the rain may help prevent some of the brush fires. But unless the rain penetrates deep enough, there will still be hot spots that he and his firefighters have to respond to, he said.

The local Red Cross said they’ve heard from an overwhelming amount of people have expressed interest in helping, and they are grateful. However, people should hold off on sending in kind donations such as water, food, clothing and the like, for now.

Officials need to focus their efforts on finding shelter for displaced residents before they can focus on they donations that are expected to come in.

Gatlinburg Mayor Mike Werner said he’s optimistic that the city will bounce back.

“We are going to be OK,” he said. “We are going to be back on our feet soon,” people should go visit the city once they rebuild.

 
TUESDAY UPDATES: 
 
Overnight, strong and severe thunderstorms developed in the area, triggering tornado warnings just north of Gatlinburg. More rain is expected today.
 
Gatlinburg Fire Chief Greg Miller said most of the injuries are non-life-threatening. He said they haven’t received any reports of missing people.
 
According to the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, three people suffered severe burns and were taken to Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville. A fourth burn victim was being treated at University of Tennessee Knoxville Hospital.
 
Miller said the fire spread Monday night by winds that at times exceeded 87 miles per hour.

Ripley’s Aquarium, which had been threatened by the wildfires, is intact and running on a generator, according to a statement from the aquarium.

“We are grateful to have had the police escort our emergency team back into the aquarium early this morning to check on the well being of our animals,” said a statement posted to the aquarium’s website Tuesday. “We have a team of marine biologists and life support experts inside the aquarium and are happy to report the animals are safe.”

 Wildfires in Tennessee have burned hundreds of buildings and forced 14,000 residents and visitors to evacuate Gatlinburg alone. 

Mandatory evacuations were issued Monday night for the cities of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge because of fires in and around Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Hundreds of firefighters, local and state personnel and National Guard troops have responded to fight the blaze and help residents evacuate.


TEMA: Update on Sevier County wildfires: 

Sevier County first responders and firefighters have been battling the wildfires for almost 24 hours. 

So much effort has been devoted to firefighting, local officials have not been able to set up areas to receive donations yet or engage volunteers. 

  • Cash donations can be made through the American Red Cross by calling 1-800-RED-CROSS or text REDCROSS to 90999
  • New Hope Church of God at 2450 Winfield Dunn Parkway in Sevierville is collecting donations. You can call them between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. EST at (865) 932-4673. 
  • Gatlinburg blocked off to the public
  • Extent of damage and damaged structures unknown at this time. 
  • Fires may still be burning in the county. 
  • Curfew in place for Gatlinburg from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., EST for Tuesday night. 
  • Pigeon Forge mandatory evacuation order has been lifted. Gatlinburg still under mandatory evacuation order. 
  • Pigeon Forge estimates 500 people were evacuated Monday night. About 125 displaced and in local shelters. 

News Conference: Update from officials on wildfires: 

State and local officials have confirmed that three people have died in the wildfires that tore across Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. 

Governor Bill Haslam said this is the biggest fire the state has experienced in over 100 years, and the state is prepared to offer any assistance that is needed. 

     QUOTES:

  • Gov. Bill Haslam: "I just got off the phone with President-elect Trump who has expressed his sorrow and wants to help any way he can."
  • Gatlinburg Mayor Mike Werner: "I drove around and found my house is gone and my business of 31 years is gone. But we're gonna make it."
  • Mayor Werner: "The loss of life is very saddening and very horrible." 

Twelve people were taken to the hospital, according to the Gatlinburg Fire Department. Most of them are said to have non-life threatening injuries. Officials said 150 structures were destroyed or damaged. 

In a press conference, fire officials said the wind speeds doubled reaching 70mph. 

Officials say there is a curfew in place tonight. 

 

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