Arson charges dropped for teens accused of setting Gatlinburg fires

State charges dropped in deadly Sevier County fire disaster

Prosecutors have dropped charges against the two juveniles that were initially labeled as being responsible for starting Tennessee's largest and deadliest wildfire this century. Almost 200 more were injured, and 2,400 structures were damaged or destroyed.

Instead, District Attorney James Dunn said the "unprecedented, unexpected and unforeseeable wind" was the primary reason a fire at Chimney Tops II, an area in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, spread outside the park into nearby Gatlinburg.

Further complicating matters, a "Memoranda of Agreement", which says the state of Tennessee cannot prosecute criminal acts that occur within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, because it is federal property.

The National Park Service was expected to continue working with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation on the case. They said crews had worked tirelessly along with members of the ATF and National Parks Service to investigate the case. The second of these documents is an exact duplicate of the first, save one critical difference: it does not include the Great Smoky Mountain National Park in the agreement.

After that, they also concluded that Dunn's office didn't have authority to prosecute actions in the national park.

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He said the prosecution showed good judgment by dropping the charges after what appeared to be an "unfortunate rush to judgment".

"Based upon these findings", Dunn wrote, "the state has no other option but to dismiss the charges pending in state court". To retain jurisdiction, the State must be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that at least one element of a criminal offense occurred outside of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and within the State's jurisdiction.

The dismissal meant the teens can not no longer be charged by the state.

Fourth Judicial District Attorney General Jimmy Dunn, in a written statement, agreed he could not prove his case against the boys.

Isaacs said the decision should mean fire victims are closer to getting answers to their questions - many of which had been styimed after Dunn asked local, state and federal offices to withhold documents that could be used in the investigation.

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