Wednesday 24 May 2017

Two juveniles charged over wildfires that killed 14 and damaged 1,700 buildings

A wildfire destroyed or damaged more than 1,700 buildings at the foot of the Great Smoky Mountains (AP)
A wildfire destroyed or damaged more than 1,700 buildings at the foot of the Great Smoky Mountains (AP)

Jonathan Mattise

Authorities have charged two juveniles over an east Tennessee wildfire that killed 14 people and destroyed or damaged more than 1,700 buildings in a famous tourism spot at the foot of the Great Smoky Mountains.

Officials offered few specifics about how they think the two started a fire that levelled buildings into charred scraps, carving a deadly path through the Gatlinburg area.

People scrambled to flee on foot or drive out of the inferno that often cloaked them from all sides, shooting hot embers through the winds. Some spent days hoping for good news about missing loved ones.

The juveniles face aggravated arson charges over the fire in the Chimney Tops area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park on November 23.

That fire grew amid drought conditions and ultimately rode winds exceeding 87mph into the Gatlinburg area early last week. Authorities have not yet put a figure on the damage caused.

The two are being held in Sevier County juvenile detention centre.

"Our promise is that we will do every effort to help bring closure to those who have lost so much," said Tennessee Bureau of Investigation director Mark Gwyn.

The juveniles are from Tennessee, but not Sevier County, where the fires spread. Officials said state law prevents therm releasing more information.

The investigation is continuing and more charges could come. It is also possible that the case could be transferred to an adult criminal court, said local district attorney general James Dunn.

The accused are entitled to a detention hearing within 72 hours in which a juvenile court judge will decide to hold them without bond, hold them with bond, or release them, Mr Dunn said.

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