After being ravaged by the wildfires that began on Nov. 28, The Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the town of Gatlinburg, Tenn. have both reopened to the public. ABC News reports that officials removed barriers blocking the roadway leading to the park and its neighboring resort town on Friday morning.
The fire—which may have been an act of arson—resulted in 14 deaths and damaged about 2,500 buildings. The main tourist area in Gatlinburg was spared, however. Local officials are now anxious to reopen the sprawling national park that draws more than 11 million visitors each year.
Gatlinburg City Manager Cindy Ogle said in a statement Thursday that the city "focused this week on allowing our residents and business owners the opportunity to return to their properties in privacy as we started the cleanup and healing process together as a community.
"We have much more work ahead of us, but for now, I look forward to standing behind our business community as we reopen tomorrow to the public and get people back to work," Ogle added.
The city of Gatlinburg also released a statement, hoping to assuage fears regarding the fact that the fires have not been completely contained. “After all the recent destruction, people may feel insecure about going back into areas where a wildfire is 'not 100% contained,'" the press release said. "Please know that the Southern Area Incident Management Team is confident that the containment lines are very secure in all the areas near homes and businesses."
Country music legend and Sevier County native Dolly Parton is doing her part to help with the recovery process. In addition to donating $1,000 a month to families who lost their homes, she’s also planning to host a three-hour telethon to raise money in support of the victims on Dec. 13th. Find out how you can help by visiting MountianTough.com.