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Gatlinburg residents, businesses allowed to return Wednesday after wildfire

By Allen Cone
Gatlinburg residents, businesses allowed to return Wednesday after wildfire
Gatlinburg residents and businesses will be allowed to return to their town Wednesday, and the town will re-open to the public on Friday. Photo courtesy Tennessee Department of Transportation/Facebook

GATLINBURG, Tenn., Dec. 6 (UPI) -- Residents and businesses will be allowed to return to Gatlinburg on Wednesday after wildfire struck the area late last month, city officials said.

But the town won't be open to the public until 7 p.m. Friday, according to a release Monday. Originally, officials hoped to open the city to everyone Wednesday.

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"On Wednesday...property owners, business owners, renters and lease holders will be allowed to return to full-time occupancy beginning at 7 a.m. through the East Parkway (Highway 321) entry point," Monday's notice said.

The town was closed to public access as officials cleared streets and recovery from the Nov. 28 fire disaster.

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On Friday, town officials gave residents and businesses limited access so they could check on the status of their property from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The curfew still applies 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. Monday and Tuesday, and then on Wednesday and Thursday it's in effect 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., according to officials.

Gatlinburg had 4,097 residents in 2013, according to the United States Census Bureau.

As of Monday night, the wildfire killed 14 people, destroyed or damaged 1,753 buildings in Sevier County and injured 145 people.

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Rain has prevented the fires from growing in the past several days. The Gatlinburg area received around an inch of rain Sunday, and up to another 1.25 inches are forecast by Tuesday night.

On Monday, Gov. Bill Haslam said authorities "need to go back and find out exactly what happened" when county officials failed to issue an immediate alert ordering Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge to evacuate. Officials said Saturday they blamed interrupted communications "due to disabled phone, Internet and electrical services."

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