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As the prolonged drought in the Southeastern US continues, wildfires are becoming increasingly problematic in the dry areas. A wildfire spread through the towns near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on November 23, 2016. Firefighting efforts were complicated by 87 mph winds that knocked down power lines and spread embers across long distances, igniting more fires by landing on drought-stricken trees.

Burned Building Gatlinburg
A building destroyed by wildfires in Gatlinburg. (Tennessee National Guard)

In eastern Tennessee, 14 wildfires are currently burning as of December 8, 2017 and have caused 14,000 people to evacuate the area. In Gatlinburg, a resort town where the Dollywood theme park is located, 2,400 buildings have been left in ruin and part of the park has been temporarily closed. Some residents reported they did not receive evacuation notices until the “fire had already passed the city limits.”

As firefighters continuously fight the flames, 100 National Guardsmen were deployed and government officials implemented a curfew for all residents. 14 people have been killed thus far due to the wildfires. At one point, Native American tribe firefighting crews helped fight the wildfires, supplementing firefighters from around the country, many of which had already been shut down for the end of the fire season.

Authorities had asked the public to help identify those responsible for igniting the blaze. So far, two juveniles have been arrested and charged with arson for allegedly starting the wildfire that killed 14 people and spread throughout eastern Tennessee. Officials have yet to release the names, gender and hometown of the two suspects.

Sources and Further Reading:

  1. Wildfires Blaze in Gatlinburg, TN; Thousands Evacuated – CNN
  2. 2 Juveniles Charged with Arson, Suspected of Starting Deadly Tennessee Wildfire – NPR
  3. Tennessee Wildfires Kill at Least Three, Injure 14 – Wall Street Journal
  4. Native American Crews Fighting Gatlinburg Wildfires – USA Today