Gatlinburg Fire Investigation


Caroline Dew, Messenger Reporter, Columnist & Social Media Manager

For people living in Western Kentucky, Gatlinburg is a popular tourist destination. The cool mountain air, the kind people, and the southern hospitality draw people from all over the United States. This popular tourist destination was, however, recently rocked by a series of wildfires. After the fires ended, there were a reported 14 people dead and over 190 injured. Cabins nestled homily in the mountains were completely torn apart, and many buildings are only skeletons. The wind conditions and dry leaves enabled the fire to spread quickly and ferociously. The fires have fortunately died down, but that doesn’t mean that the situation is any less serious. People are left without homes, people are in the hospital, and Sevier county is grieving. Spontaneous combustion may be a concept you’ve heard of – it means that something catches on fire seemingly without cause. This is a very rare phenomenon, and unfortunately, not what caused the Gatlinburg fires. Authorities have taken into custody two juveniles accused of arson, which is believed to be what began the fires.


The two taken into custody are juveniles, so their identities have not been released. Juvenile cases are very circumstantial, however. To be tried in adult court, they must be 16 or older. Children 16 and under can, however, be tried in an adult court if the crime is serious enough. For example, Robert Thompson and Jon Venables were tried in adult court at the ages of 10 and 10. They brutally murdered a young boy. They were sentenced to custody until the age of 18. They were given new identities. Lionel Tate, another juvenile, was arrested for murdering a 6-year-old girl. He was tried in adult court and was sentenced, at the age of 14, to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Whether or not juveniles should be tried in adult court is an ongoing debate.  What must be taken into account when deciding whether to try juveniles in adult court, is how serious the crime is, and what the intent was. This is the case for the two juveniles that started the Gatlinburg fires. Was the intent to start a fire? How old are the juveniles? These are questions that will affect how the juveniles are convicted if they are convicted.


The juveniles identities have not been released, because they are under the age 18. The Gatlinburg Fires were widely publicized, and the conviction of these two juveniles will likely be very publicized as well. If the identity of these juveniles is leaked, then their lives will be ruined. If the court does not sentence them to prison, they’ll probably be held in custody until 18, then given new identities. The investigation is ongoing.