Arson charges dropped for teens accused of setting Gatlinburg fires

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Law enforcement is dropping charges against two teens accused of igniting fires that decimated east Tennessee, including Gatlinburg.

Law enforcement officials announced Friday that the investigation, led by Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, is complete.

Investigators with TBI, Gatlinburg Police Department, Pigeon Forge Police Department, and Sevier County Sheriff's Office, pored through thousands of pages of documents, records, photographs and video, and spoke with more than 100 witnesses since the fires started in November 2016.

Upon review, officials said due to several factors--including unprecedented wind of over 80 miles per hour--they cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the teens were criminally responsible for the fatalities and intense damage the fires caused over the course of four days.

Jim Summers, brother of fire victim Jon Summers, said the family is just wanting to move forward.

I am not in a position to comment upon the decision made by the district attorney to drop the charges against the two young men who were charged. I am sure the decision was not made lightly, and that a variety of factors entered into his decision. I was not privy to the investigation and the thousands of documents reviewed, the witness interviews and the proof problems that may have existed.

Officials said because of the wind, it's highly unlikely and improbable that the fire would have left Great Smoky Mountains National Park and reached Gatlinburg.

This is further complicated, because there were other fires in the area from power lines that fell from the intense wind, starting several fires.

In addition, the state feels it is not within their jurisdiction to prosecute crimes within Great Smoky Mountains National Park—any prosecution for criminal conduct must be initiated by the federal government.

Fourteen people were killed in the wildfires last year.

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