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Tennessee Wildfire: Families Search for Missing Relatives

by Shamar Walters and Alexander Smith /  / Updated 
Janet and Jon Summers of Memphis, Tennessee, who were visiting their sons in Gatlinburg, are unaccounted for in this week's wildfires.

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As firefighters battled Tennessee's historic wildfires for a third day and the death toll rose to seven, anxious families were hoping Wednesday for miracles.

It has been almost two full days since hurricane-force winds whipped the wildfires across Great Smoky Mountains National Park, an area featuring many popular tourist destinations.

Since then, seven people have been confirmed dead and more than 50 others have been injured, while about 14,000 have been forced to flee their homes, authorities said. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam called it the worst fire the state has seen in 100 years.

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For many families, the focus is finding relatives who remain accounted for.

Janet and Jon Summers of Memphis, Tennessee, were visiting the resort town of Gatlinburg with their adult sons, Branson, Wesley and Jared, when the fires exploded on Monday.

The family got a call from the landlord and were told to evacuate about 9 p.m. Monday, James Summers, the couple's nephew, told NBC News.

"At that point, the fire was essentially all around them," James Summers said Wednesday.

Janet and Jon Summers of Memphis, Tennessee, who were visiting their sons in Gatlinburg, are unaccounted for in this week's wildfires.

Somehow, everybody got separated, he said. The brothers were found in some woods, and they're under sedation and on ventilators in the hospital.

Their parents still haven't been found.

"We're just hoping to God more information comes and we can find out more about where my aunt and uncles may have gone," James Summers said. "I can't imagine what it was like for them to make their way through a burning forest. ...

"For this to happen to them is one of the craziest things I could ever imagine," he said.

The last time Michael Reed spoke with his wife, Constance, and his daughters, Lily, 9, and Chloe, 12, they told him they could see flames across the street from their home in of Gatlinburg. That was Monday.

"I just want to find them," Reed told the Knoxville News-Sentinel on Tuesday night. "I spoke with them at 8:15 p.m. last night. They said there were flames across the street. I told them to call 911 and get out, and that was the last I heard from them."

Michael Reed with one of his daughters.Courtesy of Michael Reed via Twitter

Reed and his 15-year-old son, Nicholas, were unable to reach their home immediately because of traffic and the inferno closing in around them.

When Reed finally did reach the dwelling, he said, he discovered that the entire street had been engulfed.

His only hope was that his wife and two daughters got out alive.

Desperate for any news, Reed has been waiting at a local evacuation center in nearby Pigeon Forge.

"We were told that they would be busing people here, and I have been here since last night waiting," he told the News-Sentinel.

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