Chimney Tops Fire | Nashville Public Radio

Chimney Tops Fire

Chas Sisk / WPLN

The state agency responsible for fighting wildfires is defending its handling of the blazes that destroyed more than 2,000 structures in Sevier County last year.

The comments from the Tennessee Division of Forestry comes as officials are finally releasing records about the catastrophe, which caused $1 billion dollars in damage and claimed 14 lives.

The wildfires swept through Gatlinburg shortly after Thanksgiving. Many people were caught by surprise, and local officials have struggled to explain why the resort area wasn't evacuated before the fires became a threat.

TN Photo Services

More than two weeks after a deadly wildfire burned through Gatlinburg, killing 14 people, city officials are giving a detailed account of what was done to save lives. 

Gatlinburg fire
Courtesy of Michael Luciano

By now, his wildfire escape has been viewed by millions. And Michael Luciano, of Gatlinburg, is very aware he’s developed a following for his ongoing Facebook video dispatches.

Officials in Gatlinburg have been begging visitors to return. Now they'll see if that happens.

The city's downtown reopens Friday, 10 days after the wildfire that stunned the region. The fire destroyed 1,800 structures and killed 14 people. Many worry it will hinder the biggest economic driver in the area: tourism.

Gatlinburg fire
Courtesy of Gov. Bill Haslam

Two juveniles were charged with aggravated arson Wednesday in connection with fatal wildfires in East Tennessee. Authorities announced the break in their case at an afternoon news conference and said additional charges could follow.

Emily Siner / WPLN

Weddings are big business in Gatlinburg. In fact, by some estimates, this tiny resort town is second only to Las Vegas for destination weddings. The wildfires that killed 14 people and damaged 1,700 structures also destroyed one of Gatlinburg's matrimonial icons: Cupid's Chapel of Love.

Gatlinburg fire Summers family
Tony Gonzalez / WPLN

Update: 12/5/16 at 7:45 a.m.

On Sunday, another death was attributed to the fire, bringing the death toll to 14. Smoky Mountain National Park officials say 81-year-old Elaine Brown was fleeing the fire when she suffered a "medical event" that led to a motor vehicle accident. 

TN Photo Services

Updated Sunday:

Emergency officials say an evacuation alert by text message did not go out as planned in Gatlinburg. As of this weekend, local and state officials disagreed as to whether mobile devices were ever alerted as a deadly wildfire blew through the resort town.

Mark Nagi / courtesy TDOT

Emergency officials increased the death toll Friday morning. There are now 12 deaths related to the firestorm that engulfed Gatlinburg Monday night. A 13th fatality was blamed on smoke inhalation as a woman fled the fire, leading to a heart attack.

Mark Nagi / TDOT

First-responders in Gatlinburg are turning their attention to those who've been reported missing since the deadly wildfire that tore through town Monday night.