Thousands anxious to return after Tennessee wildfires

(MGFX)
(MGFX)

GATLINBURG, Tenn. (AP) — The Latest on wildfires in eastern Tennessee that have killed more than a half-dozen people and destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses (all times local):

9 a.m.

When authorities decide it’s safe for people to return to the fire-devastated city of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, Mark Howard knows what he’ll find: nothing.

The 57-year-old, privately employed handyman discovered that his house had been consumed by the wildfires raging through the Great Smoky Mountains while flat on his back with pneumonia in a hospital. He says he had no insurance.

Howard is one of thousands of people still waiting to be allowed back into Gatlinburg, a normally bustling tourist town on the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that has been closed since Monday night. Authorities said they plan to announce details at an 11 a.m. news conference about when people can expect to be let in to check on their properties.

Gatlinburg Mayor Mike Werner has said officials are thinking about reopening the resort city as early as Friday. Werner lost the home he built himself along with all seven buildings of the condominium business he owned.

Howard was released from the hospital Wednesday night, and spent the night at a hotel in Pigeon Forge. He says he’ll move to a nearby hotel that is giving a discounted rate to fire victims. After that, he’ll have to start over from scratch.

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7:35 a.m.

The superintendent of the Great Smoky Mountains National park says the wildfires that devastated parts of eastern Tennessee were likely human-caused.

Cassius Cash’s comments, made Wednesday afternoon, were reported by The Washington Post. Seven people have been killed in the wildfires which destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses, many in the Gatlinburg area.

Gatlinburg Mayor Mike Werner said officials were discussing the possibility of re-opening the town Friday, which would give business owners and residents their first look at the damage in a city that’s been closed since Monday night.

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3 a.m.

After nearly 24 hours of drenching rain helped quench a series of devastating wildfires in eastern Tennessee, local officials began turning to cleanup and recovery efforts.

Gatlinburg Mayor Mike Werner said officials were discussing the possibility of re-opening the town Friday, which would give business owners and residents their first look at the damage in a city that’s been closed since Monday night.

Werner was one of several city officials managing the crisis while dealing with personal losses. He lost his home and his business.

Officials discovered three more bodies Wednesday, raising the death toll to seven. Three other people who had been trapped since the wildfires began were rescued.

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