Gatlinburg and all of East Tennessee are picking up the pieces after wildfires roared through the mountains and into town, On November 28th, many buildings and homes in Gatlinburg burned down to their very foundations. More than 150 buildings in all were destroyed. Many people lost their homes and possessions, as they were forced to flee the fires.
The final toll included 2,460 structures damaged or destroyed in Sevier County, and worst of all, 14 lives lost and 191 injured.
But don't you even get the idea that this is the end of the story, as this story has just begun. The people of East Tennessee have already started picking up the pieces, and support has poured in from across America.
Singer Dolly Parton, a beloved bigger-than-life East Tennessee legend, hosted a three-hour telethon broadcast on Tuesday, December 13th. The event raised approximately $9 million for victims of the fires in Sevier County. As usual, Dolly has gone above and beyond, as her Dollywood Foundation has pledged to give every affected family $1,000 per month for six months. There are an estimated 1300 families who have lost their homes and could benefit from Dolly's generosity.
In a statement, Parton said "I am overwhelmed by the generosity of the people who have donated from all over the country and to my friends who donated their time, their talent, and money for My People. The response has been so overwhelming that we haven't been able to count all of the donations yet; right now, in total, we have raised about $9 million for the folks who lost everything in Sevier County."
Performing on the telethon were superstars such as Kenny Rogers, Chris Stapleton, Hank Williams, Jr., Cyndi Lauper, and Alison Krauss. Donations were also sent in by a number of other well-known celebrities, including Paul Simon and Kenny Chesney.
During a news conference at the Sevier County Courthouse on Wednesday, December 7th, authorities announced they had made two arrests. Sadly, it turns out that two teenage boys, ages 15 and 17, were hiking on the Chimney Tops trail in the Smoky Mountains, while also throwing lit matches to the ground. The area was very dry at the time, and those lit matches quickly caused a fire that spread quickly, fueled by high winds.
The 17-year old could be charged as an adult for the crime of arson, but either or both could be charged with felony murder, since deaths were caused by the initial felony crime. One careless mistake of youth caused indeterminable damage.
The theme for the people and businesses rebuilding Gatlinburg in wake of the wildfires is "Mountain tough." That phrase beautifully describes the spirit with which we will attack this problem. We're working like heck to sweep away the mess left behind by fire, rebuild what has burned, and get back to normal.
Despite what you may think or have heard, the town of Gatlinburg did not burn to the ground. The Bearskin Lodge didn't either. Sure, we were dirty and covered in soot. When it's all said and done, we will be better than ever - sparkling like brand new.
No wildfire, tornado, earthquake or any other natural disaster can kill the pride and spirit of the people of the Smokies. We take great pride in our beautiful mountains and wonderful city.
Please don't hesitate to book your stay with us. This is still one of the most beautiful parts of the country, filled with things to experience. So come on back down to Gatlinburg and the Bearskin Lodge. This is a family, and family has to stick together through tough times. So come on back down to Gatlinburg. We can't wait to see you!