Dolly Parton’heartbroken’ by Tenn. fires; her foundation pledges financial help for victims

Country legend Dolly Parton was born in Sevier County, Tennessee, which includes Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, the two resort towns that were recently engulfed in a wildfire’s flames.

Hundreds of buildings were damaged, some completely destroyed, and at least seven lives were lost in the blaze.

Just outside Pigeon Forge towers Dollywood, a theme park co-founded by (and themed after) the seminal musician. As Sevier County residents fled through winding mountain roads, trees on the low slopes orange with flames, Dollywood’s management feared it would be torched as well.

Although Dollywood was evacuated, the fire never quite reached the complex, which includes a resort, cabins, a water park and a theme park, among other attractions.

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Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort has reopened to guests, and the theme park will resume normal operation Friday, according to a statement on Parton’s website.

Although her park – which bills itself as a “complete getaway for families looking to disconnect from the world’s distractions and reconnect with each other while nestled in the beautiful Great Smoky Mountains” – survived the fires relatively unscathed (which she called a “blessing”) Parton said she was “heartbroken” by the aftermath of the fires, which have displaced about 14,000 people.

“I have been watching the terrible fires in the Great Smoky Mountains and I am heartbroken,” Parton said in a statement. “I am praying for all the families affected by the fire and the firefighters who are working so hard to keep everyone safe. It is a blessing that my Dollywood theme park, the DreamMore Resort and so many businesses in Pigeon Forge have been spared.”

In addition, her charitable Dollywood Foundation has promised to offer financial assistance to those who lost their homes.

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In a video statement on the foundation’s website, Parton said, “I have always believed that charity begins at home. That’s why I’ve asked my Dollywood Companies … plus my Dollywood Foundation to help me establish the ‘My People Fund.’ “

She continued, “We want to provide a hand up to those families who have lost everything in the fires. To aid in their recovery effort, the Dollywood Foundation will provide $1,000 a month to all of those families who lost their homes in the fires for six months so that they can get back on their feet.”

The website also included a “Donate Now” button, allowing interested parties to donate to the fund. The page also said more information would be arriving Friday, a sentiment echoed by Parton in the video.

“I know it’s been a trying time for my people, and this assistance will help. Beginning Friday, you can join our efforts to recover from these deadly fires. … Thank you for your help, continued prayers and your concern,” she said, before concluding, “I hope you’ll soon visit our Tennessee mountains and experience the Tennessee spirit.”

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Parton had been involved in wildfire awareness before her home county was affected. Earlier this month, she appeared in a video with Smokey Bear, offering tips for avoiding setting wildfires.

“We had a beautiful fall here in the Smoky Mountains. But this extended drought has resulted in high wildfire danger,” she said, while Smokey Bear nodded behind her. “As dry as it is, please help firefighters avoid wildfires. Hold off on burning leaves, tie up chains on trailers to avoid sparks, don’t park vehicles on dry grass. Why, even a cozy campfire could spark a wildfire.”

She concluded, “Why don’t you help firefighters keep the Smokies beautiful. Right, Smokey?”