Two juveniles charged with arson in Tennessee wildfires that left 14 people dead

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST NEWS PAPER)

Two juveniles charged with arson in Tennessee wildfires that left 14 people dead

December 7 at 4:33 PM

What we know about the Tennessee wildfires

Tens of thousands of people have escaped a deadly wildfire in East Tennessee. Here’s a look at the aftermath of the disaster. (Claritza Jimenez/The Washington Post)

Two juveniles have been charged with aggravated arson in connection with the East Tennessee wildfires that killed 14 people last week and left nearly 150 others injured, authorities said Wednesday.

During an investigation involving local, state and federal agents, “information was developed that two juveniles allegedly started the fire,” the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said in a news release.

Both were taken into custody Wednesday morning and are being held at the Sevier County Juvenile Detention Center.

The suspects are Tennessee residents, District Attorney General Jimmy B. Dunn said at a news conference in Sevierville. No additional information about the youths was made available, including their age and gender.

“I understand that you have a lot of questions,” Dunn told reporters. “However, the law does not allow for the disclosure of additional information at this time.”

He added that additional charges “are being considered” and said the juveniles could be tried as adults.

Two juveniles charged with arson in deadly Tennessee wildfires

Officials say two juveniles are being held on arson charges and additional charges are being considered in connection with the deadly wildfires that broke out last month in Tennessee. (Reuters)

The “Chimney Tops 2” fire was first reported Nov. 23 in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Gatlinburg, according to the National Park Service. The wildfire exploded on Nov. 28, as massive walls of flames spread down the mountains into Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge with shocking speed, according to those who fled with little more than the clothes on their backs.

The fires that engulfed the two tourist towns outside the park and shut down one of the country’s most popular natural attractions left more than 1,750 structures damaged or destroyed, most of them single-family residences. Additionally, thousands of wooded acres burned in the most-visited national park in the United States.

Gatlinburg Fire Chief Greg Miller called the devastation “unfathomable.”

Video shows firefighters driving through Tenn. wildfires

Lt. Steve Coker of the Sevierville Fire Dept. captured video of the wildfires burning in eastern Tennessee as his fire crew moved through the town of Gatlinburg on Nov. 28. (Twitter @alliecoker7)

Although wind gusts exceeding 60 mph caused the disaster to explode in Sevier County, fires had been brewing for months in this region. More than 150,000 acres have been charred in the Southeast by large fires, according to the U.S. Forest Service, and nearly 4,000 firefighters have been called into action to fight blazes that keep popping up.

The wind carried the flames from the nearby Chimney Tops fire across ground parched by a historic drought and into the surrounding towns. The fire moved too fast and too far to contain. “This is a fire for the history books,” Miller said last week. “The likes of this has never been seen here.”

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) called the fire the state’s worst in at least a century.

“To the residents of Sevier County: We stand with you and are committed to making sure justice is served in this case,” TBI Director Mark Gwyn said at the news conference Wednesday.

He added: “Our promise is that we will do every effort to help bring closure to those who have lost so much.”

The investigation, Gwyn said, is ongoing.

Gatlinburg, with a population of about 4,000 about 43 miles south of Knoxville, is surrounded on three sides by Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Smokies, part of the Appalachian mountain range, straddle the border between eastern Tennessee and North Carolina.

Considered the gateway town to the Tennessee side of the park, Gatlinburg draws more than 11 million visitors a year, according to tourism officials. It is known for its mountain chalets and ski lodge — drawing honeymooners and other visitors all year-long.

Despite two days of heavy rains earlier this week, there are nearly 800 firefighters still battling the fires on the mountains. The fire is about 64 percent contained, authorities said Wednesday, and parts of the park remain closed.

But downtown Gatlinburg was spared, and property owners, business owners, renters and lease holders were allowed to return to full-time occupancy on Wednesday. The tourist destination is expected to reopen for business on Friday.

Angela Fritz and Peter Holley contributed to this post, which has been updated numerous times.

Drought In U.S. Southeast: Appalachia Burning

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Forest fires force hundreds to evacuate in Appalachia

Wildfires, like this one near Lake Lure, North Carolina, are burning across the Southeast.

Story highlights

  • Dozens of wildfires spring up across the southeast
  • Evacuations of communities and towns take place

(CNN) Dozens of wildfires ravaging forests in Appalachia are prompting mass evacuations — including an entire town in western North Carolina, a state official said.

The Party Rock Fire, which has consumed about 2,000 acres, was headed toward Lake Lure, a community of about 1,200 people, beside a lake by the same name in Chimney Rock State Park on Saturday, said Brian Haines, spokesman for the North Carolina Forest Service.
“It’s headed toward town. They are hoping to stop it before it gets there,” Haines said. “The only people there now, I think, are the firefighters.”
Authorities earlier evacuated another 127 residences and vacation homes threatened by the fire in the area, about 30 miles southeast of Asheville, Haines said. Authorities are warning people in other rural communities to be ready to flee.
The fire started last Saturday on Party Rock, prompting evacuations there and also around the village of Chimney Rock, CNN-affiliate WLOS reported.
Party Rock is one of more than 20 fires ongoing in North Carolina, forcing evacuations of more than 200 homes in the Nantahala National Forest, Haines said. Other fires are burning in other states in the drought-stricken region.
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory on Thursday declared a state of emergency in 25 western counties after the fires resulted in evacuations in Clay, Graham, Macon, Swain and Rutherford counties.
The forest fires are forcing the state to close several state parks so that the people who work there can help fight the fires, CNN-affiliated WTVD reported.
More than 5,000 firefighters and support staff from around the nation are trying to suppress these fires — which have burned tens of thousands of acres — in an effort that includes about 40 aircraft, including three large air tankers flying out of Chattanooga, Tennessee, the television station reported.
A number of the fires are being investigated as suspected arson, but natural causes and conditions are also responsible for blazes, Haines said.
The humidity, which normally rises at night and helps to suppress the fire until morning, has been low — and that has meant many of the blazes go unfettered and move more quickly, he said.
“It is just due to the drought, honestly,” he said. “The wind is coming in and picking up the fire and running with it at night.”
The Rough Ridge Fire, which has consumed more than 13,300 Cohutta Wilderness acres in Fannin County in northeast Georgia, was caused by lighting 28 days ago, said Mary Stuever, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service.
“The fire is currently burning down toward a couple of rivers and we want to make sure the fire ties in to those rivers,” she said. “We’re trying to herd the fire.”
The Rough Ridge Fire was 20% contained Saturday, U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Michelle Burnett said.
The “human-caused” fire is under investigation, the Forest Service said.
Rabun County is about 110 miles northeast of downtown Atlanta.
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