Political News

The Latest: Obama talks with Tennessee governor about fires

Posted 7:48 p.m. Wednesday
Updated 7:50 p.m. Wednesday

A structure and vehicle are damaged from the wildfires around Gatlinburg, Tenn., on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016. Rain had begun to fall in some areas, but experts predicted it would not be enough to end the relentless drought that has spread across several Southern states and provided fuel for fires now burning for weeks in states including Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina. (Michael Patrick/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP)

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

7:30 p.m.

President Barack Obama has spoken with Tennessee's governor to offer support for residents gravely affected by recent wildfires in the Great Smoky Mountains.

A statement from the White House says Obama asked Republican Gov. Bill Haslam for an update on the ongoing response to the wildfires, which destroyed hundreds of buildings and killed seven.

The White House says Obama expressed his condolences for the lives lost in the fire. He also offered his sympathies to those residents who may have lost their homes or business.

Obama also committed to providing the assistance necessary to combat this fire. The White House says FEMA approved a grant earlier this week to help mobilize the resources necessary for an effective response.

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6 p.m.

Three adult sons are hospitalized in critical but stable condition and their parents are missing after the family fled from wildfires in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

A statement from the Summers family through the Vanderbilt University Medical Center says Wesley, Jared and Branson remain in hospital care. They are asking for prayers that their parents, Jon and Janet, are found.

Officials have said at least seven people died in the wildfires but they have not positively identified any of the dead.

According to media reports, the family was vacationing in Gatlinburg and was separated while fleeing the fiery scene.

The statement says one of the sons talked briefly to share his feelings and concerns for his brothers and parents.

The statement says the brothers are so grateful for the outpouring of love and support by so many people.

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5:15 p.m.

Federal prosecutors say a North Carolina man is accused of setting two wildfires.

The U.S. Department of Justice says 49-year-old Keith Eugene Mann Franklin was arrested Wednesday on one count of destroying property by means of fire.

According to an affidavit, a wildfire was reported on Oct. 27 inside the Nantahala National Forest in Macon County. Court documents say an investigation showed the fire was intentionally set, as were five other fires nearby.

A second wildfire was reported on Nov. 22, and investigators say when they went back to the site the next day, they found a cardboard box with burned wooden matches next to it.

Those wildfires are among dozens that have burned in the South over the past several weeks as the region has been parched by drought.

Authorities say Mann admitted setting both fires. The charges against him carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

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4:10 p.m.

A Tennessee mayor says three more bodies have been recovered after the wildfires in the Great Smoky Mountains, bringing the death toll to seven.

Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters said Wednesday that officials believe more than 400 buildings have been damaged in the county. He also noted that three people who were trapped after the wildfires Monday night have been rescued. He did not go into details about the rescue, and said authorities have not positively identified the dead.

He says search-and-rescue missions are ongoing.

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4 p.m.

Authorities say the wildfire that spread embers and flames into Gatlinburg, igniting new blazes and forcing thousands to evacuate, is now 10 percent contained.

Officials say it's the third-largest ongoing fire in the Southeast.

A Wednesday report from the federal team managing the blaze says the Chimney 2 Fire in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is more than 15,600 acres — about 25 times the size of the University of Tennessee's main campus in Knoxville.

Though rain has fallen Wednesday, fire officials say the wildfire threat isn't over.

Bonnie Strawser, with the team of fire officials working to suppress the blaze, said the fire "could still rear its head." Strawser said rainfall reports Wednesday night or early Thursday should provide a better picture of how much rain has fallen on the fire.

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3:10 p.m.

The mayor of Gatlinburg says officials are discussing re-opening the city later this week after wildfires forced the evacuation of thousands of residents and tourists.

Gatlinburg Mayor Mike Werner said Wednesday that the resort mountain city may re-open Friday so business owners can assess the damage and hopefully begin paying their employees again.

He says the evacuation orders must remain in place until then because there are still areas that haven't been searched and places where power lines are down.

The wildfires killed four people and injured dozens more.

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11:15 a.m.

A Tennessee mayor is confirming another fatality in the wildfires that swept through the Great Smoky Mountains, raising the death toll to four.

Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters also said Wednesday that nearly four dozen people had been injured in the fires.

The wildfires destroyed more than 150 buildings. Heavy rain fell early Wednesday, which is helping put out some of the wildfires, but officials say more than 200 firefighters are still out battling flames and hotspots.

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10 a.m.

Rain is moving through a Tennessee tourism region ravaged by wildfires, but officials say there are still active fires in the area.

Tod Hyslop, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Morristown, Tennessee, says the Gatlinburg area got about ¾ of an inch to 1 inch of rain overnight Tuesday into Wednesday.

He says rain will pick up midday Wednesday through the afternoon and taper off about 4 or 5 p.m. The system is moving slowly, which increases the chances of more rain.

Tennessee Emergency Management Agency spokesman Dean Flener said any rain will help, but the fires are still an "ongoing situation."

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2 a.m.

A Tennessee tourist mecca is emerging from the smoke, charred and vacant.

During wildfires Monday night, many buildings in Gatlinburg were burned to their foundation. Hotel fire alarms eerily echoed through empty streets lined with burned out cars Tuesday evening.

Three people were killed. The fire destroyed at least 150 buildings, including iconic homes and a resort. Other buildings and attractions remained largely intact, including the Dollywood amusement park in nearby Pigeon Forge.

Wildfires have been burning for several weeks across the drought-stricken South. But Monday marked the first time homes and businesses were destroyed on a large scale.

Gatlinburg, a city that opens up to 11 million visitors annually, is facing a new reality. But Mayor Mike Werner, who lost his home, says his town will pull together and recover.

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