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Wildfires Latest: Cell towers down; no fire evacuation text alert

GATLINBURG, Tenn. (AP) — Officials say a text message warning residents to evacuate amid deadly wildfires wasn't sent because cell towers went out of service before agency leaders had a chance to agree on the message's wording.

In a news conference Tuesday, Gatlinburg Fire Chief Greg Miller said that on Nov. 28 at 8:30 p.m. John Mathews of the Sevier County Emergency Management Agency tried to call the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency to discuss sending the text. Miller said that's about when two cell towers went down.

Miller said TEMA tried to reconnect to get approval of the language of the alert, but couldn't, and didn't send the message because the wording wasn't approved.

Miller said an inappropriate message could have evacuated people toward the fire, instead of away from it.

Officials went door-to-door to evacuate people, used social media and news releases, and sounded a downtown siren with a spoken message.

Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters says there will be a comprehensive evaluation of the alert system, among other issues.