Arson charges dropped against teens accused of setting deadly 2016 Gatlinburg fire

Prosecutors have dropped arson charges that were filed against two teens who were labeled as being responsible for starting last year’s deadly Tennessee wildfire.

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The teens, who are 15 and 17, were charged with starting the Chimney Tops fire, which spread into the Smoky Mountains, into Sevier County and into Gatlinburg, killing 14 people and injuring 200 more.

An attorney for one of the teens held a news conference to explain why the charges were dropped.

Defense attorney Gregory P. Isaacs, at a news conference Friday, said the state can’t prove that the horseplay of the boys sparked a fire in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that caused the deadly wildfires in Gatlinburg five days later.

"My client and the other juvenile, based on the proof and the evidence, did not cause the death and devastation in Gatlinburg," Isaacs said during the news conference at his in downtown Knoxville law office.

Fourth Judicial District Attorney General Jimmy Dunn, in a written statement, agreed he could not prove his case against the boys. He cited the "unprecedented, unexpected and unforeseeable wind event" that occurred five days after the Chimney Tops fire, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel and other national reports.

Those winds spread deadly embers into Gatlinburg and the surrounding region, according to national reports.

According to the News Sentinel, 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. Brush caught fire. The boys continued hiking down the trail. A fellow hiker with a Go-Pro happened to catch footage of them with smoke in the background. He didn’t know it was important.

Park officials decided to let the fire burn. Five days later, winds of nearly 90 mph inexplicably whipped up, spreading deadly flames into Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.

The fire was the state’s deadliest in more than a century.

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