The Latest: In wildfires, son says parents 'died happy'

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GATLINBURG, Tenn. (AP) — The Latest on the wildfires in eastern Tennessee (all times local):

5:45 p.m.

One of three brothers who were hospitalized after fleeing a wildfire that killed their parents says he believes their mom and dad died happy.

Their uncle Jim Summers relayed the message from Wesley Summers, one of the sons still in Vanderbilt University Medical Center, in a news conference Friday.

Jim Summers said Wesley wanted people to know that his parents, Jon and Janet Summers, were happy to be on a family vacation for the first time in about four years. He said he believes they died happy.

The three adult brothers, Branson, Wesley and Jared, were separated from their parents while fleeing the Gatlinburg-area wildfires that killed 13 people.

Jared Summers has been discharged from the hospital, while the other two brothers remain hospitalized in stable condition.

Jim Summers said the three sons escaped through an inferno, and it was like a movie.


5 p.m.

Officials are asking for the public's help to figure out who started a wildfire that has killed 13 people and ravaged about 1,000 buildings around Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

At a news conference Friday, Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent Cassius Cash asked people who hiked the Chimney Tops Trail on Nov. 23, or know someone who did, to contact the investigative team.

The National Park Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are investigating the cause of the fire in the park, which they believe was man-made.


12:30 p.m.

Officials are defending their response to wildfires in Tennessee that killed 13 people.

In response to reporters' questions Friday, John Matthews with the Sevier County Emergency Management Agency said a text alert telling people to evacuate went out around 9 p.m. Monday to anyone with a mobile device connected to a cell tower in the city. By that time, wildfires were raging in the area.

Matthews said some people did not receive the message due to power outages and loss of cellphone reception.

Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters said they will completely evaluate that system and improve it.

Asked about the overall response, Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent Cassius Cash said they didn't drop the ball. He said the appropriate amount of resources was put in the area, including four helicopters dropping water Sunday. He said the wind came in earlier than forecast.

Asked about why they didn't evacuate earlier, Waters said the reporter didn't know the area and he wasn't getting into "Monday morning quarterbacking."


11:35 a.m.

Officials say a Memphis, Tennessee, couple are among the 13 people who died in the wildfires that ravaged the city of Gatlinburg.

Officials said Friday that Jon and Janet Summers, both 61 years old, were among the dead. Their three adult sons became separated from their parents during the wildfires and the three young men were severely injured. They have been recovering at a hospital in Nashville. One of them has been released.

The dead also included a couple from Canada and another woman who was vacationing. Officials have not identified the other victims, but did say one person appeared to die of a heart attack while fleeing the flames.

Nearly 1,000 homes and businesses were damaged.


11:15 a.m.

A Tennessee mayor says 13 people have died from wildfires that ravaged the Great Smoky Mountains, including a person who appears to have had a heart attack while fleeing the flames.

Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters announced the additional deaths during a news conference Friday. The mayor also raised the number of homes and businesses that were damaged to nearly 1,000.

Waters spoke as business owners and home owners were returning to the city of Gatlinburg for the first time since the wildfires began damaging the area Monday.


8:30 a.m.

Thousands of people in Gatlinburg are preparing to get their first look at what remains of their homes and businesses after a wildfire tore through the resort community in the eastern Tennessee mountains.

Local officials, bowing to pressure from frustrated property owners, said they'll allow people back into most parts of the city and affected parts of the county for the first time Friday beginning at 10 a.m.

Gatlinburg City Manager Cindy Cameron Ogle says residents have to pass through a checkpoint and must show some proof of ownership or residency. She says the city is not implying that private property is safe and that people may encounter downed power lines and other dangers.

The wildfires killed 11 people and damaged hundreds of homes and businesses.


2:40 a.m.

The charred city of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, is still days away from reopening after devastating and deadly wildfires, but all around the city, communities in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains are welcoming back residents and visitors.

In Pigeon Forge, the Comedy House rented an electronic billboard message that said it was open for laughs, and a flyer at a hotel urged guests to check out the scenic Cades Cove loop.

Dollywood, the amusement park named after country music legend and native Dolly Parton, will reopen Friday afternoon after it was spared any damage.

In Gatlinburg, the center of the devastation, residents and business owners get their first chance Friday to see whether their properties withstood the blaze that killed 11 people and damaged hundreds of homes and businesses.

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