Charges dropped against 2 youths in Tennessee wildfires

The State of Tennessee says charges have been dropped against a pair of teens accused of arson in the devastating fire that burned through Gatlinburg on November 28, 2016, after the investigation determined the state has no jurisdiction in the case.

Prosecutors arrested two juveniles on December 7 and charged them with aggravated arson, and they threatened the possibility of more charges down the line.

Dunn said the youths were initially charged with causing a fire in the Chimney Tops area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park that blew into Gatlinburg, ravaging the vacation town.

"My client and the other juvenile, based on the proof and the evidence, did not cause the death and devastation in Gatlinburg".

Further complicating matters, a "Memoranda of Agreement", which says the state of Tennessee cannot prosecute criminal acts that occur within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, because it is federal property. He cited the "unprecedented, unexpected and unforeseeable wind event" that occurred five days after the Chimney Tops fire, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel and other national reports. At the time the charges were filed, the two were being held in the Sevier County Juvenile Detention Center.

Also at that press conference, the chief ranger for the park said that U.S. Attorney deferred prosecution of the case.

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After that, they also concluded that Dunn's office didn't have authority to prosecute actions in the national park.

"Our firm's independent investigation revealed the Chimney Top fires did not cause the Gatlinburg fires beyond a reasonable doubt", he said. They called the case "an unfortunate rush to judgement".

"People aren't looking for scapegoats they're looking for answers, this is the beginning of answering questions that need to be answered", he added.

Local officials indicated they were working on releasing those records in a joint statement Sevier County and Gatlinburg issued late Friday afternoon.

Man recorded video while evacuating Gatlinburg, Tenn.

  • Adam Floyd