3 more bod­ies found in Ten­nessee wild­fire ru­ins, toll at 7

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - NEWS - By Adam Beam and Jonathan Mattise

GATLIN­BURG, TENN. >> Three more bod­ies were found in the ru­ins of wild­fires that torched hun­dreds of homes and busi­nesses in the Great Smoky Moun­tains area, rais­ing the death toll to seven, a Ten­nessee mayor said Wed­nes­day.

Search-and-res­cue mis­sions con­tin­ued, and Se­vier County Mayor Larry Wa­ters said they had found three peo­ple who had been trapped since the fires started spread­ing wildly in high winds on Mon­day night. The mayor said the three were OK.

“That is some good, pos­i­tive news for a change,” he said.

The mayor said au­thor­i­ties are still work­ing to iden­tify the dead and did not re­lease any de­tails about how they were killed. State law en­force­ment set up a hot­line for peo­ple to re­port miss­ing friends and fam­ily. Of­fi­cials have not said how many peo­ple they believe are miss­ing.

Three brothers be­ing treated at a Nashville hospi­tal said they had not heard from their par­ents since they were sep­a­rated while flee­ing the fiery scene dur­ing their vacation.

Gatlin­burg Po­lice Chief Ran­dall Brack­ins said they have searched about 30 per­cent or less of the city so far.

More than 14,000 peo­ple were evac­u­ated from Gatlin­burg on Mon­day night, and many of them are still ner­vously await­ing word of when they can get back in the city to see if they still have homes.

Buddy McLean said he watched Mon­day from a de­serted Gatlin­burg street as flames sur­rounded his 26-acre ho­tel nes­tled in the moun­tains.

His grand­fa­ther bought the land in 1945, and he de­vel­oped a sub­di­vi­sion on part of it and built The Lodge at Buck­berry Creek about 14 years ago on the moun­tain­side to take ad­van­tage of the views of Mount LeConte.

McLean said four rooms were booked and an­other 15 peo­ple were hav­ing a pri­vate din­ner when the ho­tel’s chef and event co­or­di­na­tor told ev­ery­one to evac­u­ate.

“I have 35 em­ploy­ees,” McLean said. “All of them lost their jobs overnight.”

Storms moved through the area Wed­nes­day as part of a sys­tem rav­aging the South­east, spawn­ing sus­pected tor­na­does in parts of Alabama and Ten­nessee, killing five peo­ple and in­jur­ing more than a dozen.

Of­fi­cials in the Gatlin­burg wel­comed the rain but were wor­ried about mud­slides, rock slides and high winds knock­ing trees onto power lines, per­haps cre­at­ing new fires sim­i­lar to the deadly ones that sparked Mon­day night.

Most of those fires had been con­tained by Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon, but un­cer­tainty re­mained for a re­gion that serves as the gate­way into the Great Smoky Moun­tains, the coun­try’s most vis­ited na­tional park.

The Rocky Top Sports World com­plex on the out­skirts of town was serv­ing as a shel­ter. Wolf McLel­lan stum­bled into the fa­cil­ity af­ter a day of wan­der­ing the streets. He said he was forced to evac­u­ate a mo­tel where he was stay­ing. He grabbed his gui­tar, two com­put­ers and his so­cial se­cu­rity card and tried to flee with his dog, Kylie.

“She was too scared to move with the smoke and sirens and she just stood there. I didn’t want to drag her. I couldn’t drag her,” he said. “I fig­ured the humane thing to do would be to just cut her loose.”

Of­fi­cials in nearby Pi­geon Forge lifted the evac­u­a­tion or­der there, but the or­der still stood in Gatlin­burg.

Gatlin­burg Mayor Mike Werner said of­fi­cials were dis­cussing re-open­ing the city on Fri­day so busi­ness own­ers can as­sess dam­age and hope­fully be­gin pay­ing their em­ploy­ees again.

“You re­ally can’t let every­body in yet be­cause there are still ar­eas that haven’t been searched, there are still ar­eas where elec­tric lines are down, power poles are down,” he said.

The mayor lost the home that he built him­self, two dogs plus all seven of the con­do­minium build­ings he owned. In a city built on tourism, Werner has said the big­gest thing peo­ple can do to help is come back. But for him, there is noth­ing to come back to.

“I re­ally can’t dwell on it that much. I think of oth­ers that have lost theirs, and it keeps my mind off of our prob­lems,” he said while fight­ing back tears. “It’s re­ally hard, it’s re­ally tough.”

Werner is stay­ing at a friend’s house while man­ag­ing the cri­sis with other state and lo­cal lead­ers. He has raised at least $150,000 from lo­cal busi­nesses to help with the re­lief ef­forts, money he plans to spend helping peo­ple who don’t have in­surance.

Al­most noth­ing re­mained of the Cas­tle, per­haps the largest and most iconic home over­look­ing Gatlin­burg. En­tire churches also dis­ap­peared, and the flames reached the doorstep of Dol­ly­wood, the theme park named af­ter coun­try mu­sic leg­end and lo­cal hero Dolly Par­ton. The park was spared any sig­nif­i­cant dam­age and will re­open Fri­day.

The adult both­ers in the hospi­tal who re­ported their par­ents miss­ing were in crit­i­cal but sta­ble con­di­tion in Nashville, ac­cord­ing to a state­ment from the fam­ily re­leased through the Van­der­bilt Univer­sity Med­i­cal Cen­ter. The Sum­mers brothers — Wes­ley, Jared and Bran­son — are ask­ing for prayers that their par­ents, Jon and Janet, are found.

WADE PAYNE — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Build­ings de­stroyed by a wild­fire are seen among burned trees as more fires burn nearby Tues­day near Gatlin­burg, Tenn.

AMY SMOTHERMAN BURGESS — KNOXVILLE NEWS SEN­TINEL VIA AP

Jas­mine Hurst, left, and Charles Britton load up a car to be taken to an area mo­tel from the LeConte Cen­ter Wed­nes­day in Pi­geon Forge, Tenn., which has been serv­ing as a Red Cross shel­ter since the wild­fires in Pi­geon Forge and Gatlin­burg.

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