Home Emergency Management News Sevier County Wildfire Death Toll Reaches 13

Sevier County Wildfire Death Toll Reaches 13

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Tennessee Governor declares state of emergency

In a Thursday statement, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam declared a state of emergency that suspended state laws and eased other requirements in an effort to expedite assistance to victims recently affected by the deadly wildfires and storms that have impacted the state.

Some of the benefits of the state of emergency declaration allow the fees for state identification cards and driver licenses to be waived for victims, and permits medical professionals licensed outside the state of Tennessee to assist victims.

Destructive wildfires

On Monday, deadly wildfires ripped through the popular tourist destination of Gatlinburg in the state, destroying nearly 1,000 homes and businesses. The destruction included the popular Westgate's Smokey Mountain Resort. 

The rapidly spreading wildfires forced the evacuation of thousands of people from both Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge in eastern Tennessee on Monday night and Tuesday, as local fire fighters and others from around the state fought to protect homes and structures.

National Guard provides support

To support the city, on Tuesday, about 120 members of the National Guard  began assisting local emergency management officials with efforts that include transportation of first responders, light debris removal, and health and welfare checks of residents.

"We're mountain tough, and have a strong, strong faith in God." -- Mike Werner, Mayor of Gatlinburg.

Winds whip through mountains, carrying embers, sparking fires

The death toll from what are being touted as historic fires has now reached 13 victims. And the numbered injured has risen to more than 80 people.

The massive wildfires spread rapidly due to hurricane force winds exceeding 90 mph on Monday that carried embers to the area from the nearby Chimney Tops 2 fire reportedly started on November 23, but sparked other fires when it toppled power lines.

Officials expect the death toll to rise as search and rescue efforts for people still considered missing continue across the area.

Gatlinburg Mayor Mike Werner said the city is going to reopen the main roads into town, with some exceptions, for property owners and residents on Friday to let them assess damages and give them their first look at the devastation caused by the fires.

Kimberly Arsenault Kimberly Arsenault serves as an intern at the Cleveland/Bradley County Emergency Management Agency where she works on plan revisions and special projects. Previously, Kimberly spent 15 years in commercial and business aviation. Her positions included station manager at the former Midwest Express Airlines, as well as corporate flight attendant, inflight manager, and charter flight coordinator. Kimberly currently holds a master's degree in emergency and disaster management from American Public University.