Brian Blanco/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — Authorities said Thursday that they are still working on trying to “positively identify” the seven people killed by the massive wildfire in eastern Tennessee.
The blaze, which has injured at least 74 others, has burned more than 17,100 acres of land and devastated the cities of Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and other surrounding areas in Sevier County, according to officials.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has called the wildfire the state’s largest fire in 100 years.
“It is certainly a distressing time for all of us,” Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters said at a news conference Thursday. He added that he and the city are extending their thoughts and prayers to the families of the seven victims.
In addition to working on positively identifying the seven deceased, authorities said they are also trying to compile a list of missing persons in areas affected by the wildfire.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) established a hotline to coordinate reports of missing persons on Wednesday, Waters said. Those who wish to report missing individuals are urged contact 1-800-TBI-FIND, he added.
The hotline has received more than 100 calls in less than 24 hours, according to officials.
Firefighters and responders have made “significant process” in searching and clearing areas affected by the fire, Waters said.
The eastern part of the city of Gatlinburg has been opened and local officials are hoping to allow owners to access their properties “in a controlled process” by the beginning of next week, according to Gatlinburg City Manager Cindy Ogle.
She added that officials are working on getting up a website that will contain a list of properties damaged by the fire. That website will be updated gradually as officials receive more information, Ogle noted.
A recent “significant amount of rainfall” has helped contain the wildfire, which continues to burn on Thursday, according to Cassius Cash, superintendent of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where the fire started.
However, Cash said Thursday that people should not let the rain “give us a false sense of security.” He emphasized that it would take some time to completely put out the fire and recover from its devastation.
Despite the destruction the blaze has left, there has been an “overwhelming” outpouring of support and donations from across the country, officials said.
Dolly Parton has promised to donate $1,000 per month for six months to families that lost their homes, said David Dotson, president of The Dollywood Foundation.
Dotson said at the news conference Thursday that Parton was “heartbroken” and has set up a website where people around the world can donate. He said the website has not even been up for 24 hours yet, but “the world is responding in a big way.”
“We’re going to be strong,” added Gatlinburg Mayor Mike Werner. “We’re going to be back better than ever.”
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