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Death toll hits 13 in Tennessee wildfires

dpa logodpa 2/12/2016

Arson investigators are looking into the fire in Tennessee's Great Smoky Mountains, described by authorities as "human-caused", which has claimed 13 lives.

Thirteen people are confirmed dead and about 70 are still missing in US wildfires that continue to burn in a 70-square-kilometre area in and around Tennessee's Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Twelve of the deaths were fire-related, while one person suffered a heart attack while trying to escape the blaze, The Tennessean newspaper reports.

Among the dead were tourists, including a Memphis couple hiking in the national park.

The fire "was human-caused", according to the Southern Area Red incident management team, which assumed command over fighting the fire.

The blaze has damaged or destroyed more than 700 structures in Sevier County, the team said.

Authorities have called it the worst wildfire in the area for a century.

Agents from the federal Alchohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agency, which has expertise in investigating arson, were on hand to assist local investigators, according to The Tennessean.

The original fire started a week ago; its rapid spread was aided by drought conditions and strong winds.

A total of 458 personnel are fighting the blaze.

Rain provided some relief on Wednesday and Tennessee emergency authorities said that all wildfires in Gatlinburg were now extinguished, though some were still smouldering.

The speed and size of the fires meant that many people fled with little more than the clothes they were wearing.

More than 14,000 people have been evacuated from Gatlinburg and the neighbouring resort town of Pigeon Forge.

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