Thousands anxious to return following wildfires
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.
7:30 a.m. — Country music legend Dolly Parton says The Dollywood Company and The Dollywood Foundation are establishing the My People Fund, which will provide $1,000 monthly to Sevier County families who lost their homes.
The flames reached the doorstep of Dollywood, the theme park named after Parton. The park was spared any significant damage and will reopen Friday.
Parton said she hopes the financial assistance will help people who lost everything get back on their feet again.
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.