2 juveniles charged for role in starting Sevier County wildfire

(Courtesy: TDOT)

SEVIERVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Two juveniles were arrested and charged for their role in starting the devastating wildfire in Sevier County that killed more than a dozen people.

Authorities said the minors were taken into custody early Wednesday and face charges of aggravated arson. Additional charges are also being considered.

During a brief news conference, officials with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said the juveniles do not live in Sevier County but are Tennessee residents. Information on their identities will not be released.

They remain in custody and will have a detention hearing within the next 72 hours. It will then be determined if they will be held with or without bond or released.

PHOTOS: Wildfires in East Tennessee

TBI Director Mark Gwyn (Courtesy: WATE)
TBI Director Mark Gwyn (Courtesy: WATE)

TBI Director Mark Gwyn offered his condolences to the victims of the deadly wildfire before making the announcement.

“We stand with you and are committed to making sure justice is served with this case,” he said. “We will do whatever we can to help bring closure.”

The investigation is ongoing and the TBI will continue to assist alongside other agencies.

“I can tell you, this investigation is active and ongoing and we still have a lot of work to do,” Gwyn added. “My promise is that we will do every effort to help bring closure to those who have lost so much.”

News 2 spoke with Rob McGuire, a former longtime prosecutor in Davidson County, who offered insight into what the weeks and months to come could bring in this case.

“What you have to prove in an arson case, is that a person intentionally set fire to something,” explained McGuire. “Were they out there being kids messing around, setting things on fire, and then it got away from them?… Or were they intentionally setting something on fire, and hoping the fire would spread?”

The stone walls are all that stands of the Roaring Fork Baptist Church in Gatlinburg, Tenn., Friday, Dec. 2, 2016, following the devastating wildfires from Monday night, Nov. 28. (Amy Smotherman Burgess/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP)
The stone walls are all that stands of the Roaring Fork Baptist Church in Gatlinburg, Tenn., Friday, Dec. 2, 2016, following the devastating wildfires from Monday night, Nov. 28. (Amy Smotherman Burgess/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP)

That distinction could mean all the difference for two young people possibly facing numerous charges.

“It’s gonna be real interesting to see what proof the state has and what they put on at the next couple of hearings in this case,” said McGuire.

The juveniles remain unnamed, but they could be tried as adults. Their parents could possibly be culpable as well, though to date, McGuire says that seems unlikely.

“I would say the fact that the parents remain out of custody, and not arrested, is probably an indicator, of at least what law enforcement thinks right now.”

Also on Wednesday, Sevier County officials updated the number of injuries and buildings damaged, saying 176 people were injured and 2,460 structures were damaged in some way or destroyed. The death toll stands at 14.

The Chimney Top 2 fire is estimated to be 64 percent contained. The Cobbly Nob fire is estimated to be 67 percent contained.

Fire crews from across the state, including here locally, assisted in battling the wildfires. Many crews have since returned home.

Gatlinburg is expected to open to the public on Friday for the first time since the fire ripped through the area.

Click here for complete coverage of the Sevier County wildfire.