Tourists Separated From Sons Perished in Gatlinburg Fire

ATF agents investigating source of 'human-caused' blazes
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 2, 2016 12:18 AM CST
Death Toll in Tenn. Wildfires Rises to 11
A swimming pool in a motel complex shows burn marks Wednesday in Gatlinburg, Tenn.   (Mark Humphrey)

Crews discovered the remains of more people as they searched the rubble of wildfires that torched hundreds of homes and businesses near the Great Smoky Mountains, bringing the death toll to 11, officials in Gatlinburg, Tenn., said Thursday. The Commercial Appeal reports that Memphis couple Jon and Janet Summers are among the dead. They were at the Chalet Village with sons Branson, 23, and Jared and Wesley, 22, and found themselves unable to flee by car; the family got separated while on foot. The sons are being cared for at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. A hotline has been set up for people to report missing friends and relatives, and after following up on dozens of leads, authorities say many of those people had been accounted for. They didn't say whether they believe anyone else is still missing or may have died, the AP reports.

"I think it's fair to say that the search is winding down," Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters says. "And hopefully we will not find any more." He says the searches will likely be completed Friday. More than 14,000 residents and visitors in Gatlinburg were forced to evacuate, and the typically bustling tourist city has been shuttered ever since. At least 700 buildings in the county have been damaged. The city hopes to open main roads again by the middle of next week. The superintendent of Great Smoky Mountains National Park has said the fires were "likely to be human-caused" but he has refused to elaborate, saying only that the investigation continues. Agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives are helping investigate the cause. (More Tennessee stories.)

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