Signs point to recovery after wildfires

Courtesy Mark Nagi  TDOT via WATE

The death toll still stood at 13 people Friday as authorities continue to sort through the wreckage left behind by a wildfire called the state's worst in at least a century.

"I don't know how big it is here but we're going to stay and take action", a forestry worker said at 8:50 p.m.

"We're requesting that every person that hiked or knew someone that hiked at Chimney Tops Trail on Wednesday November 23, we ask that you call the tip line that was developed today", Cash said. "When they got up that morning, when they seen that fire, we should have been on alert right then". Many sections of Mount LeConte caught fire, we don't know if that area caught.

Hours later, at another briefing, officials announced that a number of missing people had been found.

"It certainly is distressing and saddening to all of us, and we are extending our sympathy to all the families that are involved", Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters said.

In Sevier County alone, more than 400 firefighters and nearly 100 fire apparatuses are supporting the firefighting effort, according to The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency.

But the November 23 fire on Chimney Tops proved to be extraordinary - it jumped containment lines and hopped from ridge to ridge on a path to the resort city of Gatlinburg, killing 13 people along the way.

In Gatlinburg, the centre of the devastation, officials there hope to open the city's main roads to the public by Wednesday. Waters declared that Sevier County was "open for business". In the case of one women who has been identified, Alice Hagler, she waited to leave and was on the phone with her son frantically telling him her house was on fire when the line went dead. She added that officials are working on getting up a website that will have a list of properties damaged by the fires and that the website will be updated gradually as officials receive more information.

To help victims of the wildfires, contact the American Red Cross (1-800-Red Cross) or text REDCROSS to 90999 to donate ten dollars to the American Red Cross disaster relief fund.

"This is a fire for the history books", said Miller. "We want to provide a hand up to those families who have lost everything in the fires ... until they get back up on their feet".

Damage in Tullahoma
Damage in Tullahoma

Guests at the Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge were evacuated from nearby cabins as the fire advanced towards Parton's property, WATE said in a separate report, and crews were working to protect the park from the flames. Dollywood remained closed Thursday.

The National Park Service has said the blaze was "human-caused" and probably began in the Great Smoky Mountains, American's most visited national park.

Emergency officials ordered evacuations in downtown Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge and in other areas of Sevier County near the Great Smoky Mountains.

After almost 24 hours of drenching rain helped quench a series of devastating wildfires in eastern Tennessee, local officials turned to cleanup and recovery efforts even as they battled their own personal crises.

According to her obituary, Vance lived in Gatlinburg.

" 'You can not just tell them (to evacuate.) You have to tell them what to do, ' Flener said".

The search and rescue process has taken a week, but as of Thursday, officials believed they would be able to finish their search efforts by Friday. Animal control and other officers are also checking on displaced animals. Another 6,000 burned outside the park.

"The center of Gatlinburg looks good for now", Newmansville Volunteer Fire Department Lt. Bobby Balding told the Knoxville News-Sentinel on Tuesday.

Howard is one of thousands of people still waiting to be allowed back into Gatlinburg, a normally bustling tourist town on the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that has been closed since Monday night.

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