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Mountain Tough Recovery Team ends phase two of wildfire recovery work

The recovery team assisted people on a case by case basis, helping out with things like cleanup, home rebuilding and more.

Gatlinburg and Sevier County are entering the next phase of recovery following the deadly Nov. 2016 wildfires.

On Monday, the Mountain Tough Recovery Team announced it was bringing its phase of work to a close on December 20.

Over the last 16 months the group has helped hundreds of people who applied for assistance after the wildfires back in 2016. In a press release, the group said out of the 600 people who registered, 70 percent met the criteria and received some type of help or have been identified as 'recovered.'

One of those survivors was Ernest Ogle, who lost his home and nearly all that he owned in the fires roughly a month after his wife had died.

"Well I, I thought my world had come to an end when I lost my wife, then I lost my house with no insurance," he said.

At the time, he said he didn't realize that support efforts like the Appalachian Service Project and the Mountain Tough Recovery would help rebuild so many peoples' lives. A few months after the fire, he celebrated his 75th birthday inside his new home -- complete with new furniture and amenities.

"Said they would build my house for me and at the time I didn't understand," he said. "Now, [my life] is coming back very nicely."

Barbara Joines is the executive director of the organization. She said even though recovery efforts are moving forward for people like Ogle, that doesn't mean people will no longer get help.

"The next chapter includes continuing those mental health services as well as other needs people may have," she said.

The recovery team assisted people on a case by case basis, helping out with things like cleanup, home rebuilding and more.

David Dotson is the CEO of the Dollywood Foundation. He said recovery work takes a village, but it is worth it in the long run.

"There are a number of partners who have helped us pull together over $12 million and so it's a group effort," Dotson said. "We know this work is not over but we will continue working until people get what they need."

The group said 12 new homes have been built so far through the Appalachian Service Project, with three news homes in planning through the Tennessee Housing Development Agency grant.

Some 250+ families have been assisted with their rebuilding and recovery needs since 2016.

More than $3 million in financial assistance has been provided since July 1, 2017. With the assistance of Dolly Parton's My People Fund and the Mountain Tough Recovery Team, that totals $12.5 million in wildfire aide.

The organization said the next chapter of recovery will utilize the remaining aide in Dolly's My People Fund to address mental health needs, basic needs assistance and provide a new community resource for Gatlinburg.

"I was always brought up to believe that you must take care of your family and your community. I am so proud and grateful that the My People Fund continues to find new ways to help our friends and neighbors recover from this terrible event," Dolly said in the release.

The money from the My People Fund will support Helen Ross McNabb to provide free counseling and support to fire survivors through June 2020. Another $175,000 will go to Smoky Mountain Area Rescue Ministries to provide financial assistance and retain housing for survivors.

The Sevier County Food Ministry will receive $225,000 to establish two new satellite locations in Gatlinburg -- and will used to fulfill projected food bag needs through through Dec. 2021 for both the First Baptist Church in Gatlinburg and the Roaring Fork Baptist Church.

The Dollywood Foundation said any remaining funds will be held in reserve to ensure there is money to cover any unanticipated needs.