Death toll rises to 11 in Sevier County wildfire; 80 others treated for injuries

SEVIER COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) – Eleven people have now died as a result of the tragic wildfire that burned thousands of acres in Sevier County, Tennessee, this week.

Authorities have not officially released the identities of those who were killed. They said they are working to make sure each victim is identified correctly and their families notified.

However, one family identified a victim as Alice Hagler. Her daughter-in-law told WATE they last spoke as the fires neared Hagler’s home, who sounded scared and worried. On Thursday, a family member confirmed that missing Memphis couple, Jon and Janet Summers, died in the fire.

In addition to the 11 deaths, 80 people have been treated for injuries. Most of them were treated and released.

(Courtesy: TDOT)

Officials also said that a number of people who had previously been reported missing had been found.

PHOTOS: Wildfires burning in East Tennessee

“They [emergency crews] care so much about finding people who are presumed to be missing,” Fire Chief Greg Miller said. “We still desire your prayers.”

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has set up a hotline to report missing persons. Anyone who calls the hotline, 1-800-TBI-FIND, 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.

Wildfire on Chimney Top in Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Courtesy: WATE/Report It! Chris Higgins)
Wildfire on Chimney Top in Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Courtesy: WATE/Report It! Chris Higgins)

Beginning at 10 a.m. Friday, homeowners and business owners will be allowed limited access to their properties.

Officials said property owners need to use “exteme caution” as they access the still evacuated areas. Property owners will be allowed to bring insurance adjusters with them. Limited access to the area is expected to continue for the next several days.

“We’re working around the clock and doing everything we possibly can to get Gatlinburg open and them back on their feet,” said Mayor Mike Warner.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has joined crews as the investigation into the massive Sevier County wildfire continues.

ATF Agent Michael Knight said the agency was called in overnight to help with the investigation. Agents are working to create a timeline of the fire to help determine a possible cause.

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

According to Knight, just because the ATF is now involved does not mean criminal charges are coming.

Around 240 people stayed at shelters overnight. The shelters are expected to remain open as long as they are needed.

”We’re making progress and we’re going to be back soon. I want the whole world to know that,” Mayor Waters said. “We’re going to survive and be better than ever when this is over.”

Mayor Warner added, “We’re ‘Mountain Tough’ and we have a strong faith in God.”

Sen. Lamar Alexander, who grew up just 15 miles away from Gatlinburg, will visit the area on Friday.

“I would say as terrifying as this is, the response has been even more remarkable,” Sen. Alexander said.

Another news conference is expected to be held on Friday morning at 10 a.m. local time.

Click here for continuing coverage of the Sevier County wildfire.