US & Canada

Seven people dead in Tennessee wildfire

a man in the wreckage Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The fire destroyed around 400 buildings so far near the Great Smoky Mountains, America's most popular national park

The death toll from the wildfires raging in several southern US states has risen to seven as search-and-rescue operations continue.

The resort cities of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee have suffered the majority of the damage.

More than four dozen people have been injured by the fire, and hundreds of buildings burned to their foundations.

Authorities say the fire is about 10% contained and "could still rear its head".

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption At least 150 buildings in Gatlinburg have been destroyed

Over 14,000 people have been evacuated, and schools across the region have been closed.

As the flames die down in some areas, other risks to firefighters are becoming a greater threat, Gatlinburg's fire chief says.

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"A new challenge that the weather is creating for us after the fire is we are experiencing some small mudslides and rock slides because there's no longer that foliage that's holding everything together," Chief Greg Miller said at a press conference.

Police raised the death toll to seven on Wednesday afternoon after discovering three more bodies.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Officials have asked locals to conserve water so it can be used for fire fighting efforts

They did not provide any details regarding the circumstances of the deaths.

Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters told reporters: "We certainly want to pray for those families, the folks involved in the fatalities. We continue to try to identity them. We haven't been able to yet."

Officials in Gatlinburg hope to allow residents to return to the town on Friday, but for now the mandatory evacuation order remains in place.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption A wildfire approaches the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts on Tuesday night
Image copyright EPA
Image caption The school was quickly engulfed by the flames

Gatlinburg Mayor Mike Werner called for tourists to support the area by coming to visit the region which includes the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and draws more than 11 million people annually.

"We're going to be OK - that's our message - we're going to be OK," said Mayor Werner, who lost his own home and business in the blaze.

"If you really want to do something for Gatlinburg ... come back and visit us."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Fire alarms continue to sound throughout the city of Gatlinburg

Dollywood, the resort owned by country music star Dolly Parton in the mountain town of Pigeon Forge, was largely spared, though the flames licked its doorstep.

There is a rain system currently moving through the area, but officials fear that not enough will fall to stem the spread of the fire, which has already burned for several weeks due to drought conditions.

In other parts of the US South, severe thunderstorms and tornados have led to five deaths and dozens of injuries.

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