Gatlinburg Wildfires: 4 Things You Should Know About Worst Tennessee Fire in 100 Years

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(Photo: Courtesy of National Park Services Staff/Handout via Reuters)Motorists stop to view wildfires in the Great Smokey Mountains near Gatlinburg, Tennessee, November 28, 2016.

The death toll rose to 13 on Friday as officials in Tennessee continue to investigate the cause of the massive wildfires that have destroyed homes and businesses in Gatlinburg and surrounding areas where over 5,000 people are still without power.

Over 14,000 residents and tourists were evacuated from Gatlinburg on Monday, as fires spread from the Great Smoky Mountain National Park into the city, reports, adding that as many as 50 people are still listed as missing as of Friday.  

As many as 1,000 homes and businesses have been destroyed, mostly in Gatlinburg but also in Pigeon Forge and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where fires have scorched 17,000 acres in the region which is home to "the most-visited national park in America," according to The Washington Post.

As the search for survivors continues, the Tennessee Emergeny Management Agency has established a hotline so people can report their missing relatives at 1-800-824-3463, or 1-800-TBI-FIND.

1. Worst fire in over 100 years 

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(Photo: Courtesy of National Park Services Staff/Handout via Reuters)Smoke plumes from wildfires are shown in the Great Smokey Mountains near Gatlinburg, Tennessee, November 28, 2016.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and government officials have said the wildfire that started on Nov. 28 is the worst the state has seen in at least a century.

"This is a fire for the history books," said Gatlinburg Fire Chief Greg Miller, according to UPI. "The likes of this has never been seen here. But the worst is definitely over with."

"It's a little numbing, to be honest with you, to see the extent of the damage," Haslam said upon visiting Gatlinburg.

As 13 people were confirmed dead on Friday, over 50 are still missing and as many as 80 people are being treated for injuries.

2. Dolly Parton's charitable act  

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(Photo:CATHAL MCNAUGHTON/REUTERS)American country music star Dolly Parton performs on the Pyramid Stage at Worthy Farm in Somerset, during the Glastonbury Festival, June 29, 2014.

Famous country music singer Dolly Parton has strong ties to the affected area, with her famous theme park, Dollywood, being located in Pigeon Forge.

Parton pledged Thursday to donate $1,000 to each person who lost a home because of the fires per month for up to six months.

"While exact numbers remain unclear, the donation is expected to assist hundreds of people and could amount to $2 million, said David Dodson, president of The Dollywood Foundation," reported the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

"Parton built Dollywood here and it is a signature attraction in Gatlinburg. The park closed after the wildfires erupted days ago but it is expected to reopen on Friday."

3. Burned Bible page found

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(Photo: Facebook/KCBD NewsChannel 11)A burned page of the Bible discovered in Dollywood in the wake of historic fires that hit Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and the surrounding area.

A volunteer helping to clean up Dollywood Park following the fires reportedly found a burned Bible page where some unusually timely verses were still readable. 

Isaac McCord, employee at Dollywood's human resources department, discovered the torn up piece of paper in a puddle at the park.

"As soon as I got down on the ground, I noticed it was a Bible verse, and I was like, holy crap," explained McCord in an interview with local media.

"It was in a puddle of water. I said, 'I want to take care of this the best way I can,' so I gently scooped it up and carried it out the best I could."

Reportedly one verse on the torn page was Joel 1:19: "O Lord, to thee will I cry: For the fire hath devoured the pastures of the wilderness, and the flame hath burned all the trees of the field."

4. A man-made tragedy?

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(Photo: Tennessee Highway Patrol/Handout via REUTERS)A wildfire burns on a hillside after a mandatory evacuation was ordered in Gatlinburg, Tennessee in a picture released November 30, 2016.

While winds may have helped spread the blaze, some state officials believe there is a chance that the fire was a man-made tragedy.

The ATF is working with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the National Park Service to determine the source of the original blaze, reported on Friday. 

"Park officials said the fire started at Chimney Tops Trail and was likely manmade. High winds and dry conditions spread the flames, scorching more than 17,000 acres in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevier County earlier this week."

ATF spokesman Michael Knight told local media that more than a dozen agents are in the area.

"We're not looking at a criminal investigation right now," Knight said, adding agents could know as soon as this weekend if the fire was intentionally set, reports. 

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(Photo: Tennessee Highway Patrol/Handout via Reuters)Troopers from the Tennessee Highway Patrol help residents leave an area under threat of wildfire after a mandatory evacuation was ordered in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, in a picture released November 30, 2016.

"Speaking to The Washington Post late Wednesday afternoon, Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent Cassius Cash simply said that the blazes were 'likely to be human-caused,'" noted

"A spokeswoman for the park, Dana Soehn, said almost exactly the same thing to WREG, also choosing to remain as succinct as possible in her statements. Park officials are currently investigating into the matter."

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