CRIME

Two Juveniles Charged In Connection With Deadly Tennessee Wildfire

The wildfire killed 14 people and injured more than 130.
Smoke plumes from wildfires are shown in the Great Smoky Mountains near Gatlinburg, Tennessee, on Nov. 28, 2016.
Smoke plumes from wildfires are shown in the Great Smoky Mountains near Gatlinburg, Tennessee, on Nov. 28, 2016.

Two juveniles have been charged with aggravated arson in connection with fires that killed 14 people and injured over 130 in Sevier County, Tennessee, last month.

“We are pleased to announce that two people have now been charged for their role in starting the fires,” Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director Mark Gwyn said at a press conference Wednesday. “Unfortunately, these two individuals are juveniles.”

The pair is accused of starting a fire “on or about” Nov. 23 in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which later spread to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and the surrounding area. This fire destroyed more than 1,000 structures and burned more than 17,000 acres.

Because the two suspects are juveniles, their identities and many other details surrounding the case were not released. Officials did confirm the suspects are from Tennessee, though not from Sevier County. They were taken into custody on Wednesday morning and are currently being held at the Sevier County Juvenile Detention Center.

Jimmy Dunn, district attorney general for Tennessee’s 4th District and the prosector of this case, said it’s possible the juveniles could be tried as adults.

“Additional charges are being considered, and all options available to the state when dealing with juveniles are on the table,” Dunn said Wednesday.

Steve Kloster, chief ranger of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, said Wednesday that the public played a “critical” role in helping investigators identify suspects. 

A tip hotline was established late last week for anyone who could provide information on hikers who visited the Chimney Tops Trail area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park on Nov. 23. The hotline received “approximately 40 tips with just a few minutes of going on line,” Kloster said.

A juvenile hearing is set to take place in the next 72 hours to determine if the suspects will be held without bond, held with bond or released.

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

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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Tennessee Wildfires