For Gatlinburg's Mayor, Fire Brought Personal Devastation

He lost his home and 7 other buildings
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 1, 2016 11:18 AM CST
For Gatlinburg's Mayor, Fire Brought Personal Devastation
The remains of Creek Place Efficiencies are seen after a wildfire in Gatlinburg, Tenn., Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016.   (Andrew Nelles/The Tennessean via AP)

(Newser) – Gatlinburg Mayor Mike Werner has been the voice of calm while the Tennessee city battled a 15,000-acre wildfire that killed at least seven people before it was put out with help from some much-needed rain. That didn't change Thursday as he noted cleanup efforts are now underway and suggested 14,000 evacuated residents could return to the area as soon as Friday. But Werner knows well what those residents might find: His home and seven condominium buildings he owns burned to the ground. "I really can't dwell on it that much," he tells the AP. "I think of others that have lost theirs, and it keeps my mind off of our problems." Gatlinburg's fire chief adds several firefighters also lost their homes, but are still working "to take care of everybody else."

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A National Park Service rep says the fire began on a trail 10 miles south of Gatlinburg and was "human caused," though she offered no other details, reports CNN. As it spread, the fire destroyed more than 700 buildings in Sevier County, including 300 in Gatlinburg. Many other people are missing and officials fear the death toll will rise as they are now moving from house to house to survey damage. Though Dollywood in neighboring Pigeon Forge escaped major damage, Tennessee native Dolly Parton says her foundation will donate $1,000 per month for six months to survivors who lost their homes. "We want to provide a hand up to those families who have lost everything … so that they can get back on their feet," Parton says, per BuzzFeed. (Read more wildfires stories.)

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