Dolly Parton, one of country musics most enduring entertainers, said she will donate $1,000 a month to each family that has been left homeless by the wildfires that destroyed much of a town and left at least seven people dead in her home state, Tennessee, this week.
In a video statement published on her website, Ms. Parton said the newly established My People Fund would use online donations and money from her foundation and her extensive business interests to provide for these families for six months.
I have always believed that charity begins at home, Ms. Parton said. And thats why Ive asked my Dollywood Companies including the Dollywood Theme Park; the DreamMore Resort; my dinner theater attractions including Dixie Stampede and Lumberjack Adventure; plus my Dollywood Foundation to help me establish a My People Fund.
We want to provide a hand up to all those families that have lost everything in the fires, she said. And to recover, we want to make sure that the Dollywood Foundation provides $1,000 a month to all of those families that have lost their homes in the fires until they get back up on their feet. I know it has been a trying time for my people, and this assistance will help.
The iconic country music star, 70, is giving concerts in Texas this week as part of her biggest North American tour in 25 years, with dates in more than 60 cities. In the next year she will release two albums, and she has a TV series that will trace her childhood, from Pigeon Forge, Tenn., to Nashville.
Ms. Parton is a native of Sevier County, Tenn., where Gatlinburg and nearby Pigeon Forge are. Deadly wildfires have ripped through the regions foothills this week, forcing thousands to flee as emergency responders sought to contain the blaze, which has been fueled by high winds and a drought. Rain has helped to curb some of the fires, but the states emergency management officials said on Thursday there were still some smoldering patches.
Seven people were killed and up to 45 people were injured, the Tennessee Department of Health said, according to an emergency management statement on Thursday.
Gatlinburg, at the base of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and about 50 miles from Knoxville, relies heavily on tourism. Pigeon Forge, home to Dolly Partons Dollywood theme park, is among the primary tourist destinations in the region.
Pete Owens, a spokesman for Dollywood, said in a statement that the park had not been damaged but that more than a dozen cabins managed by the company had been damaged or destroyed.
Ms. Parton, who earlier this week described herself as heartbroken by the destruction, said in her video statement announcing the fund that the terrible wildfires in the Great Smoky Mountains have affected the same mountains where I grew up and where my people call home.
She said the Red Cross has done a wonderful job but that she hoped individual donors would join her efforts to support those in need.
It was not immediately clear how many families would be eligible for the monthly relief. The two Red Cross shelters that opened in Sevier County have 219 occupants on Thursday, the emergency management statement said.
As of Wednesday, the fires in Gatlinburg had been extinguished, but there were still smoldering patches, the statement said. A mandatory evacuation order was still in place there and it was not clear when, if at all, residents could return to their houses.
The total impact of the fire was still being assessed, but up to 8,476 people were still without power, the statement said.
This is the largest fire in the last hundred years of the state of Tennessee, Gov. Bill Haslam said on Tuesday afternoon.