As Tennessee wildfire death toll hits 11, park official blame humans for starting blaze

Firefighters clear a road in Great Smokey Mountains National Park
(Image credit: AP/YouTube)

Officials in Sevier County, Tennessee, said Thursday that emergency crews had found the remains of more people from the wildfires that hit Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge this week, bringing the death toll to 11. "I think it's fair to say that the search is winding down," and will probably conclude Friday, Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters told The Associated Press. "And hopefully we will not find any more." More than 14,000 people had to evacuate Gatlinburg, both residents and visitors to the tourist town, and at least 700 buildings in the county were damaged in the fire. People who own or rent property in the city will be allowed to return on Friday, and Gatlinburg hopes to reopen to the public Wednesday.

The fire started in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where 10,000 acres burned amid a severe drought. A day of rain on Wednesday helped firefighters control the blaze, but the dry conditions mean the area is still at risk. The fires were "likely to be human-caused," says Park Superintendent Cassius Cash, and their origins are being investigated with help from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). Deputy Superintendent Clayton Jordan was more forthcoming, explaining that the fire started on a peak popular with tourists, and that there were no natural events like lightening that could have started the conflagration on Monday.

AP was allowed into the park with cameras, and below you can see what the Smokies look like after the fire. Peter Weber

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Peter Weber

Peter Weber is a senior editor at, and has handled the editorial night shift since the website launched in 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian and plays bass and rhythm cello in an Austin rock band. Follow him on Twitter.