Southeast

2 charged with aggravated arson in Tennessee wildfires

Raw video: Truck maneuvers through Gatlinburg wildfire in Tennessee

 

Two teens were charged Wednesday with aggravated arson in connection to the deadly wildfires in the Gatlinburg region, The Tennessean reported.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, District Attorney General James Dunn overseeing Sevier County and Great Smoky Mountains National Park announced the charges at a news conference Wednesday.

Dunn said the juveniles face aggravated arson charges in the Chimney Tops area of Great Smoky Mountain National Park Nov. 23.

The two are being held in the Sevier County juvenile detention center.

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"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. Otherwise, officials said state law prevents releasing more information about them.

Karyssa Dalton, a 19-year-old whose grandmother Pamela Johnson remains missing in the blaze, told the Associated Press the two should be held accountable, even though they're young.

"I mean, what if somebody came through their town, and set their town on fire, and lost their loved ones, and lost all their homes?" Dalton said. "It's not fair."

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Chief Ranger Steve Kloster said the public was "critical" in offering investigators information through a tip line. Previously, the National Park Service said it believed the fire was human caused, and set up a tip line for people to call if they hiked that trail on Nov. 23, or knew anyone who did.

The investigation is ongoing and more charges could come. It's also possible that the case could be transferred to an adult criminal court, said local District Attorney General James Dunn.

The juveniles 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, Dunn said.

Dunn constantly said everything was "part of the investigation" when asked for details.

Asked if others could be charged in the fire, Dunn repeated that "everything's on the table."

"We don't know," he said.

On Wednesday, Gatlinburg residents and business owners were allowed to move back into homes and establishments permanently. They had been allowed to visit during daytime hours since last Friday.

The city is slated to open to the public on Friday morning. Though swaths of the city were decimated, the main downtown strip appears to have been spared.

The Associated Press contributed to this report