Tennessee officials are now reporting that at least 13 people have died during the current wildfire disaster.

The fires, described as the state’s largest in 100 years, are believed to be human-caused, authorities said.

Twelve of the victims died as a direct result of the firestorm, and one victim died of a heart attack while trying to escape a blaze, officials said at a news conference this morning. The briefing was held in Gatlinburg — one the worst-hit cities in Sevier County.

“It certainly is distressing and saddening to all of us, and we are extending our sympathy to all the families that are involved,” Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters said. “I can’t describe you the feeling that we have over this tragedy, and, especially, the loss of lives.”

Notifications are still going out the the families of the victims. However, the identities of several of the dead have been released.

Alice Hagler, 70, missing from Chalet Village, a collection of rental cabins, was one of three dead found in that neighborhood, her son has said. Memphis couple Jon and Janet Summers, who’d also been staying in Chalet Village, apparently died there as well, according to Jon Summers’ brother, Jim.

Officials confirmed the deaths of the Summers couple, Hagler and three others on Friday.

John Tegler, 71, and Janet Tegler, 70, a couple from Canada, also died in Chalet Village, said Vincent Tolley, an assistant medical examiner.

May Vance died of a heart attack due to smoke inhalation while fleeing the fire.

At least one other victim had been identified Friday, but that person’s relatives hadn’t yet been notified, Tolley said. Officials still are working to confirm the identities of the remaining dead.

Other information related to the Gatlinburg area blaze is also being released.

  • To date there have been 100 people who sustained injuries related to the fire and were treated at LeConte Medical Center.
  • 1,413 structures have been damaged or destroyed by the fire.
  • There are currently 19 crews, 47 engines, six helicopters, five dozers, 605 total personnel fighting the Chimney Top 2 Fire as a part of the Type 1 Federal Incident Management Team.

Tennessee officials are now beginning to look at the emergency alert system warnings that were issued, as there were complaints that people did not receive notifications via their cell phones.

Local, state and federal officials confirmed that the order to evacuate Gatlinburg amid Monday night’s deadly firestorm was not sent to mobile devices in the area.

The reason for the failure, however, remains unclear.

John Mathews, director of the Sevier County Emergency Management Agency, said at a news conference Friday morning it was his understanding that an evacuation alert had been sent to mobile devices.

“If people did not receive the message we sent out, of course we are unsatisfied with it,” Mathews said in response to pointed questions.

The citywide evacuation was broadcast only on area TV and radio. And when it came — at 9:04 p.m. Monday, according to Tennessee Emergency Management Agency records — it was several hours after the flames had swept into Gatlinburg.

During an era in which more and more people are turning away from standard media sources, finding new ways to ensure the public will get warning messages during disasters will be critical. This may be one of the most important lessons learned during this tragedy.