Teens Charged in Gatlinburg Wildfires Were Playing With Matches
Two juveniles have been arrested and charged with aggravated arson after starting the fire that spread through the Great Smoky Mountains in and around Gatlinburg, Tenn., recently. The fire was a result of the youths tossing lit matches during very dry conditions.
The Knoxville News Sentinel reports that two teenage boys aged 17 and 15 were charged with aggravated arson in Sevier County Juvenile Court earlier in the week. A source tells the newspaper that the two boys are friends who are residents of Anderson County. They were hiking on the Chimney Tops trail in Great Smoky Mountains Park on Nov. 23 and were lighting matches and throwing them to the ground around the trail, and another hiker inadvertently caught a picture of them walking away from the trail while smoke rose in the background. Their clothing later led investigators to identify them.
According to investigators, that small fire mushroomed over days, fuelled by high winds and drought conditions, and turned into the blaze that swept the area on the 28th, killing 14 people and destroying more than 2400 local business and homes. The teens have not been identified publicly because under Tennessee law, the names of underage offenders cannot be released except in the most extreme offenses, including murder and rape.
State law does not permit prosecutors to charge the 15-year-old as an adult for aggravated arson, but the 17-year-old could be charged as an adult for that crime. However, either of the teens could be charged as adults for felony murder, a charge which could be supported in an instance where death results from the commission of a felony.
At a press conference this week, Fourth Judicial District Attorney General Jimmy Dunn told reporters that "additional charges are being considered and all options are on the table, including transfer of these juveniles to adult Criminal Court."
A detention hearing for the juveniles originally set for Friday (Dec. 9) was delayed. They are currently in juvenile detention in Sevier County.
Country stars are among those who have come to the aid of residents impacted by the fires in Gatlinburg. Kenny Chesney partnered with the CMA to donate $500,000 to relief efforts, and Taylor Swift teamed with the ACM to give $200,000. Dolly Parton has established the My People Fund, which will give $1,000 per month to families and individuals who lost their homes in the fire.
She has also announced the Smoky Mountains Rise benefit concert, which will air Tuesday (Dec. 13) across multiple platforms. Chris Stapleton, Chris Young, Amy Grant, Reba McEntire, Kenny Rogers, Alison Krauss, Chris Janson, Big & Rich, Michael W. Smith, LoCash, Montgomery Gentry and more are slated to perform during the three-hour program. Viewers can donate by phone at 1-866-CARE-MORE or online at the Dollywood Foundation website.
Contribute by mail to the address below:
My People Fund, c/o Dollywood Foundation
111 Dollywood Lane
Pigeon Forge, TN 37863.
Watch: Dolly and Kenny Step Up to Help
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