SEVIER COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) – Three people were rescued Wednesday afternoon in the Sevier County wildfire as the death toll climbed to seven.
Officials confirmed the latest deaths in a news conference Wednesday afternoon. Three other deaths were reported on Tuesday. None of the victims’ identities have been released at this time.
Two of the three adults rescued Wednesday were found at the Westgate Resort, while the third was located on Ski Mountain. Those three have since been evaluated and released.
At least 53 other injuries have been reported over the last few days. Most of those people have since been treated and released, officials said.
Overnight crews battled as many as eight new fires and around 200 crews remained on the ground. By 3 p.m. local time, Fire Chief Greg Miller said crews had just responded to a single structure fire.
“We’re still working. We’re still out there and doing our jobs,” he said.
Miller added firefighters spent much of their time Wednesday clearing roads and debris, and assessing areas to make sure it is safe when residents are allowed to return to their homes.
It still remains unknown when families and residents will be able to go back to their homes. Officials hope to provide a better timeline on Thursday, but continue to emphasize that safety is a top priority.
“This is going to be a process that takes time,” Miller said.
Mayor Larry Waters added, “We’re going to do everything we possibly can to ensure the safety of our residents and our visitors.”
Earlier in the day, Chief Miller said the concern now is the possibility of mud and rock slides.
Officials said more than 700 structures have been destroyed by the massive wildfire and more than 15,000 acres have burned.
Fire departments from across the state, including locally in Nashville, Murfreesboro and Lebanon, have sent crews to assist with the fire and its aftermath. No firefighter injuries have been reported.
Officials report the wildfire damaged the water system in Gatlinburg and the city is asking residents to conserve the use of water because of the high demand for firefighters.
The water quality will be compromised and residents are asked to boil water before drinking or using it for food preparation. The city also recommends straining water through a clean cloth to remove any sediment.
Shelters also remain open to help those people and families in need of a place to stay. Officials said around 300 people stayed in the shelters overnight and some hotels are providing rooms to people in need.
A number of people are considered missing, including Constance Reed and her two daughters, Lily and Chloe. They have not been seen or heard from since Monday night when the fires first spread to homes.
Memphis couple Jon and Janet Summers, were vacationing in Gatlinburg with their three sons when the wildfire broke out. The boys are currently being treated at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, but their parents remain missing.
Alice Hagler, another woman reported missing, was found dead Wednesday night, WATE reports. Her home caught fire while she was on the phone with her son on Wiley Oakley Drive in Chalet Village–the same area where she was later found deceased. It’s unclear at this time if she is one of the seven mentioned above at this time.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has set up a hotline for missing people in Sevier County at 1-800-TBI-FIND. Callers should be prepared to relay as much identifying information as possible, including names, phone numbers, vehicle identification and last known whereabouts.
Callers should not call the hotline for information on personal property.
Officials have also set up a Facebook page, Chimney 2 Fire, to help provide updates.
The mayor continues to emphasize Gatlinburg will recover from this tragedy and come back stronger than ever.
Another news conference is scheduled for Thursday at 10 a.m. local time to provide the latest updates on conditions. News 2 will livestream the event.