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Smoke Clears, Spirits Rise as Fundraising Continues for Wildfire Victims

Firefighters from around the region traveled to Gatlinburg and Sevierville to fight the fires. (National Park Service)
Firefighters from around the region traveled to Gatlinburg and Sevierville to fight the fires. (National Park Service)
December 14, 2016

GATLINBURG, Tenn. – Last night, thousands of dollars were raised to help people affected by the wildfires that swept through Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. The Smoky Mountains Rise: A Benefit for the My People Fund, largely led by Dolly Parton, featured celebrities including Hank Williams Junior and Cyndi Lauper, in an effort to help provide $1,000 a month for six months to families whose homes were destroyed.

Pete Owen, director of public relations for the Dollywood Company, said Dolly Parton, who grew up near the area impacted by the fire, decided what she had to do before she knew she could raise the money to pay for it.

"It was a really, really quick discussion," he said. "The idea was, what could we do immediately and we could provide $1,000 a month to these families that need it, that have had their homes destroyed. It will give them a hand up. It won't necessarily solve all of their problems."

It's estimated at least 1,400 homes were lost that were primary residences for families. Gatlinburg Mayor Larry Waters estimates the wildfires caused more than $500 million in damage, destroying 17,000 acres and 2,500 structures. At least 14 people died.

Late last week, two teenagers were arrested for starting the fires.

With a majority of residents working in the tourist industry, Owen said the fires hit people hard personally and professionally, but the clouds of smoke have had a small silver lining.

"We've been able to pull together and have been able to help one another," he added. "We've always been a good-neighbor community, but I think that's even a stronger bond than it was before."

If you'd like to help victims of the fires, a number of nonprofits are collecting donations, including the My People Fund and the American Red Cross.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - TN