GATLINBURG (WATE) – Officials say the death toll has now reached 13 in wildfires in Sevier County. Twelve of the victims died as a direct result of the fire. Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters announced Friday that a 13th victim died from a heart attack while trying to escape that fire.
The Assistant Medical Examiner identified 5 of the victims who included a couple in their 70s from Canada, a couple in their 60s from Memphis, TN, and a fifth victim who was also visiting the area when the fire happened.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is working with responders to search for more victims. Waters said 90-percent of the area had been “soft-searched” and they were working rapidly to finish the job.
Sevier County officials said at a press conference Friday morning that 85 people have been treated at hospitals for injuries and many have been released from the hospital. About 1,000 structures have been damaged. Work is continuing to assess buildings. There is now an interactive map to check the condition of property. You can go to click here to find it. Not all properties have been added to the map, but owners are advised to continue checking as they update the database.
The city of Gatlinburg will reopen to the public on Wednesday. Property owners were allowed back Friday to check homes and get any belongings.
If you would like to help with the cleanup or rebuilding process, you can sign up by going to www.volunteertn.org.
Gov. Bill Haslam said this is the largest fire in 100 years in Tennessee. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) is working to help determine the origin of the fire.
Officials say they have developed a number of leads that have resulted in missing persons being found. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has established a hotline to coordinate reports of missing persons in the areas affected by the recent wildfires in East Tennessee. Those wishing to report missing individuals believed to be in the affected areas of Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Wears Valley may contact 1-800-TBI-FIND.
“Since our hotline has been established yesterday morning, we received 100 phone calls,” said an agent from TBI in a statement. “We are following up on approximately 70 leads.”
The county is asking pet owners to provide names and specific addresses of the animals to the Sevier County Humane Society Facebook page.
Investigating burned property
All roads will be open in the fire-damaged areas to property owners from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, except Beech Branch Road, Walker Trail Road and Wiley Oakley Road. People must be able to prove they are property owners, leasers or renters. This also applies to tourists who would like to retrieve belongings they left behind. Officials will work with business owners to confirm that people were staying at their lodging businesses.
If all goes well, the access will remain open through Tuesday. There will be one entry station at the East Parkway near Gatlinburg City Hall and can only be reached by Glades Road. There may be areas with active utility workers and first responders and people should be prepared for delays and finding alternate routes.
Structures may not be safe. The city is not implying such by allowing access. Homeowners may bring insurance adjusters with them. The current goal is to reopen downtown Parkway, River Road and Airport Road on Wednesday to the general public.
Mayor Waters says all the fires are extinguished in the county and city, but some hot spots remain. The fire has burned more than 17,000 acres in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and remains only 10 percent contained there.