Brian Blanco/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — Three more deaths have been confirmed as a result of the massive wildfires in eastern Tennessee — bringing the death toll to 10, according to officials.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam called the wildfires the state’s largest in 100 years.
The blazes — which officials believe were “human-caused” — have injured at least 80 other people, burned more than 17,100 acres of land and devastated the cities of Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and other areas in Sevier County.
All the fires have been extinguished as of this afternoon, though a few “hot spots” remain, officials said.
They added that the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation have started working in conjunction with the National Park Service to determine a timeline of how the wildfire transpired.
Authorities said that they are still working on trying to positively identify the 10 deceased before notifying relatives.
“It is certainly a distressing time for all of us,” Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters said at a news conference today. He added that he and the city are extending their thoughts and prayers to the families of victims.
In addition to working on positively identifying the deceased, authorities said they are trying to compile a list of missing people in areas affected by the blazes.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation established a hotline to coordinate reports of missing people 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 progress” in searching and clearing areas affected by the fires, Waters said.
The eastern part of Gatlinburg has been opened, and local officials are hoping to allow owners to access to 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 have a list of properties damaged by the fires and that the website will be updated gradually as officials receive more information.
“We’re working around the clock and doing everything we possibly can to get Gatlinburg open and them back on their feet,” said Mayor Mike Werner. “We’re mountain tough, and we have a strong faith in God.”
Despite the destruction the blazes have left, an overwhelming outpouring of support and donations from across the country are helping, officials said.
Dolly Parton has promised to donate $1,000 per month for six months to families that lost their homes, according to David Dotson, president of the Dollywood Foundation.
He said at the news conference today 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 Werner, Gatlinburg’s mayor. “We’re going to be back better than ever.”
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