Tennessee wildfire: Gatlinburg man desperate to find his missing family

A Gatlinburg, Tenn., man says he hasn’t heard from his wife or daughters since Monday, when mandatory evacuations due to a wildfire separated him from his wife and daughter.

“My wife’s name is Constance Reed and my daughters’ names’ are Lily Reed and Chloe Reed,” Michael Reed said in an emotional interview with CBS affiliate WATE in Tennessee.

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    Reed said he and his son were separated from his wife and daughters when the wildfire, one of the largest and most devastating in U.S. history, began to threaten Gatlinburg.

    The wildfire grew in size Monday night when high winds blew trees onto power lines, sparking new fires and spreading embers over long distances, officials said.

    Hundreds of homes and other buildings, including a 16-storey hotel, were damaged or destroyed.

    READ MORE: Dolly Parton donating $1,000/month to every Tennessee family devastated by fires

    “We had seen on the news that there were fires on the spur,” Reed said. “So my son and I jumped in our van and drove … down the mountain to the Welcome Center on to the spur to see if it was close to our house.”

    After getting caught in the traffic of the massive evacuation – more than 14,000 people were evacuated from Sevier County according to the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) – Reed had what would become his final contact with his family in several days.

    “[My wife] called us about 8:15 and said that there were flames across the street from our house,” Reed told a WATE reporter while fighting back tears. “She didn’t know what to do. So I told her to call 911, and that was the last time that I talked to her.”

    WATCH: Tennessee firefighter captures dramatic video as he drives through Gatlinburg wildfire

    Reed says he’s been trying to learn more from emergency officials about his family’s fate, but no one has been able to give him any information.

    “We’ve snuck back into Gatlinburg, and a friend of mine went to the other shelter in Gatlinburg and they said she wasn’t there,” Reed said. “I’ve called the other shelters here, they said she isn’t there.”

    “[I’m] just hoping for a miracle.”

    Meanwhile thousands of people in Gatlinburg are preparing to get their first look at what remains of their homes and businesses Friday morning.

    READ MORE: Cats survive months in the wild following Fort McMurray wildfire

    Local officials, bowing to pressure from frustrated property owners, began allowing people back into most parts of the city and affected parts of the county for the first time at 10 a.m.

    Gatlinburg city manager Cindy Cameron Ogle says residents have to pass through a checkpoint and must show some proof of ownership or residency. She says the city is not implying that private property is safe and that people may encounter downed power lines and other dangers.

    The wildfires killed 11 people and damaged hundreds of homes and businesses.

    -With files from the Associated Press

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