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I need to check and see, if one is burning trash in their backyard, is that considered arson?
Agents of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are helping the National Park Service and other local authorities to investigate the origin and cause of the wildfire that killed at least 10 people this week.
ATF spokesman Michael Knight said he is in Gatlinburg with more than a dozen others from his agency, including several certified fire investigators. Those investigators receive special training frequently used in cases of arson or other crimes.
"We're not looking at a criminal investigation right now," Knight said Thursday afternoon.
The National Park Service earlier this week said rangers believe the fire — which ravaged more than 17,000 acres and destroyed or damaged more than 700 buildings — was manmade. Park officials provided few details as to how they arrived at the conclusion.
The Park superintendent said at a press conference Friday that a human set the fire that spread into Gatlinburg. Anyone who was on the Chimney Top trail on November 23 has been told to call 1-888-653-0009.
Sources: Teens toying with matches started Gatlinburg wildfire
The boys, ages 17 and 15, were charged this week in Sevier County Juvenile Court with aggravated arson in the Nov. 28 wildfires that shut down the city of Gatlinburg at the height of its winter tourism season and damaged or destroyed more than 2,400 homes and businesses. The death toll included two children and a woman who died fleeing the flames
Fourth Judicial District Attorney General Jimmy Dunn, whose jurisdiction includes Sevier County, and Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director Mark Gwyn announced the teens' arrests Wednesday but refused to reveal any details. State law shields from the public most documents and information on juvenile defendants in all but the most serious cases, such as murder and rape. Aggravated arson is not on the list of the most serious charges.
Sources familiar with the teenagers and the investigation but not authorized to speak publicly about the case say the two boys are friends and live in Anderson County. The boys were hiking on the Chimney Tops trail in the park on Nov. 23 and tossing lit matches onto the ground around the trail, the sources said. A hiker unwittingly captured an image of the boys walking away from the trail with smoke in the background, and the teenagers' clothing helped authorities identify them, according to sources.
The oldest boy is the son of an Anderson County Sheriff's Office employee, according to sources.
Dunn said at a news conference this week that "additional charges are being considered and all options are on the table, including transfer of these juveniles to adult Criminal Court."