National News

One year later: Dolly Parton reflects on deadly wildfires

Posted November 30, 2017 12:47 p.m. EST

— This week marks one year since the deadliest wildfires in Tennessee history.

Communities are slowly rebuilding. The people have help from many generous donors, but none as notable as Dolly Parton.

Dolly spoke to News 4 in an exclusive interview, sharing her fears when she first heard the news and her love for her people she describes as "mountain strong."

"It was the most heartbreaking, sickening, scary," Dolly said. "You can't describe the feeling."

She described the day she first heard that her home, the Great Smoky Mountains, was going up in flames.

"Well I freaked out because they were telling me the Smoky Mountains were burning, and I was on tour. We were going on stage. When I got off stage, you know, the Smoky Mountains are burning down. And I thought, 'what are you talking about?'" Dolly said.

Images on TV showed the devastation. Winds whipped flames through the most visited national park in the country.

Fourteen homes were lost and more than 2,000 homes and businesses were destroyed.

Dolly was thankful her own family was OK, but heartbroken for the victims and the tremendous loss. She said her people are tough, but they pulled from a deeper strength during this difficult time.

"You learn to live life tough, but when everybody's got that spiritual background also, I think that good neighbors and just faith in Good and trust in God and in one another, kind of pull together as a team," Dolly said.

Dolly hosted a star-studded marathon and raised $10 million, then millions more after the event. Thousands of dollars were distributed to the hundreds of families affected.

Unfortunately, scammers were able to steal a small chunk of that before the scheme was uncovered.

"Anytime there's money involved, you're going to always have your little crooks, but you don't pay attention to them. They never get that far anyway, and it's a small drop in the bucket of all the wonderful things that people did," Dolly said.

The ever-positive Dolly is focused on the good hearts of those who joined in to help her in their time of need.

"I'm just proud to be part of that whole thing, and I think it's good when people try to help," Dolly said. "And that's the only way you can keep going. You got to pull as a community, as a family and as a country."

Dolly shared a message for everyone planning their next vacation to the Smoky Mountains.

"The big message here is people should come on back. It's there, it's still beautiful, it's still fun, it's still everything that it was. And I think there's a new spirit, a new energy."