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The Latest: Death toll rises to 11 in Tennessee wildfires

Posted 8:53 p.m. Thursday
Updated 8:54 p.m. Thursday

A burned car sits in a parking lot Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016, in Gatlinburg, Tenn., after a wildfire swept through the area Monday. Three more bodies were found in the ruins of wildfires that torched hundreds of homes and businesses in the Great Smoky Mountains area, officials said Wednesday. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

— The Latest on wildfires in eastern Tennessee that have killed seven people and destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses (all times local):

8:45 p.m.

Emergency officials say the death toll from Tennessee wildfires this week has risen to 11.

Tennessee Emergency Management Agency spokesman Dean Flener says in a statement Thursday night that one additional death has been found in Sevier County.

Hurricane-force winds fueled wildfires on Monday night, forcing more than 14,000 residents and tourists to evacuate the city of Gatlinburg.

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7:30 p.m.

Authorities have arrested a man on charges of setting an eastern Tennessee wildfire that burned 65 acres.

The state Department of Agriculture says its Agricultural Crime Unit and Sequatchie County authorities charged 24-year-old Dakota Ashton Tucker of Monteagle with deliberately setting a fire Nov. 14 in Sequatchie County.

Tucker is being held in Grundy County jail and additional charges are pending.

A conviction would carry a sentence of one to six years in jail and up to $3,000 in fines.

More than 1,400 wildfires have burned across Tennessee this year. Officials suspect almost half of them are arson.

Tucker is one of several people charged in setting wildfires in Tennessee recently. ___

7 p.m.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has declared a state of emergency to expedite aid to victims of the wildfires and storms ravaging eastern Tennessee.

The Republican governor on Thursday suspended certain state laws and eased other requirements to help victims of the storms. He gave the commissioner of Commerce and Insurance discretion to assist policyholders even when premium payments have been delayed, and waived fees for the issuance of driver's licenses and other identification for victims of the disasters. His order freed up medical professionals licensed in other states to help Tennessee victims.

Wildfires descended on the city of Gatlinburg and the surrounding area Monday night and were followed by tornadoes and other destructive storms in eight eastern Tennessee counties.

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This item has been corrected to show that the emergency declaration was made Thursday, not Tuesday.

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4:15 p.m.

A Tennessee mayor says that the death toll from wildfires earlier this week has increased to 10.

Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters said Thursday afternoon that authorities had discovered three additional deaths. He did not release any details about the fatalities and said authorities are still working to positively identify the remains.

Hurricane-force winds fueled wildfires on Monday night, forcing more than 14,000 residents and tourists to evacuate the city of Gatlinburg.

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11:50 a.m.

Tennessee officials say they are making significant progress searching for any survivors in homes and businesses that were scorched by wildfires earlier this week.

Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters said Thursday that the death toll from the fires stands at seven. He says the number of injured has increased to about 75 people, including some who had to go to the hospital Wednesday. He did not release specifics about the injuries but did say that most of the people had been released from the hospital.

Authorities are following up on dozens of leads about missing people, but they do not know exactly how many people may be missing. Officials say most of the burned areas will have been searched by the end of Thursday.

More than 14,000 residents and tourists were forced to evacuated Monday night when high winds spread wildfires throughout the area near the Great Smoky Mountains.

Many people are still anxiously waiting to get back into Gatlinburg to see if their home has been damaged.

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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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7:30 a.m.

Country music legend Dolly Parton says she's establishing a fund to help victims of the wildfires that burned hundreds of homes and businesses in the Great Smoky Mountains area and left seven dead.

She 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.

More than 14,000 people were evacuated from Gatlinburg on Monday night and many of them are still nervously awaiting word of when they can get back in the city to see if they still have 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.

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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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