Authorities working to positively identify 7 killed in Tennessee wildfires

(ABC NEWS) -- Authorities said today that they are still working on trying to positively identify the seven people killed by the massive wildfires in eastern Tennessee.

The blazes, which have injured at least 74 others, have burned more than 17,100 acres of land and devastated the cities of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge and other areas in Sevier County, according to officials.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam called the wildfires the state's largest in 100 years.

"It is certainly a distressing time for all of us," Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters said at a news conference today. He added that he and the city are extending their thoughts and prayers to the families of the seven victims.

In addition to working on positively identifying the deceased, authorities said they are trying to compile a list of missing people in areas affected by the blazes.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation established a hotline to coordinate reports of missing people on Wednesday, Waters said. Those who wish to report missing individuals are urged contact 1-800-TBI-FIND, he added.

The hotline has received more than 100 calls in less than 24 hours, according to officials.

Firefighters and responders have made "significant process" in searching and clearing areas affected by the fires, Waters said.

The eastern part of Gatlinburg has been opened, and local officials are hoping to allow owners to access to their properties "in a controlled process" by the beginning of next week, according to Gatlinburg City Manager Cindy Ogle.

She added that officials are working on getting up a website that will have a list of properties damaged by the fires and that the website will be updated gradually as officials receive more information.

A recent "significant amount of rainfall" has helped contain the wildfires, which continue to burn, according to Cassius Cash, the superintendent of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where the fires started.

However, he said today that people should not let the rain "give us a false sense of security." He emphasized that it would take some time to extinguish the fires and recover from their devastation.


Despite the destruction the blazes have left, there has been an overwhelming outpouring of support and donations from across the country, officials said.

Dolly Parton has promised to donate $1,000 per month for six months to families that lost their homes, said David Dotson, president of the Dollywood Foundation.

He said at the news conference today that Parton was "heartbroken" and has set up a website where people around the world can donate. He said the website has not even been up for 24 hours yet, but "the world is responding in a big way."

"We're going to be strong," added Gatlinburg Mayor Mike Werner. "We're going to be back better than ever."



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