Tennessee forestry chief lauds firefighters in wildfires

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Although Tennessee's top forestry official says he regrets the loss of lives and property from last year's wildfires, he argues that firefighters did as much as they could to contain the blaze.

The November fire started in the remote Chimney Tops area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and was carried by strong winds into the vacation town of Gatlinburg, killing 14 people and tearing through thousands of homes and businesses.

Many residents were caught off guard by the rapidly approaching flames.

State Forester Jere Jeter emphasized in a press conference Wednesday that his agency has no authority over whether or when to call for an evacuation.

He says the agency is planning to replace firefighters' outdated mobile phones to ensure they have access to online maps.

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