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Mathews tourists dig deep to help Tennessee fire victims

A group of local residents traveling through fire-ravaged eastern Tennessee decided to leave a lasting impact on those affected by the blaze by making a $300-plus donation to help them get back on their feet.

A massive blaze killed 14 people and damaged or destroyed well over 2,000 properties near the towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Nov. 28, a fire now alleged to have been caused by two juvenile arsonists.

The residents were traveling with Mathews-based Blessed Friends Travel, and were on their way home from Nashville just days after the fire, when they stopped overnight in Pigeon Forge. The group decided to have dinner at the Applewood Farmhouse, a popular tourist destination.

“The restaurant that was usually packed was not,” said Nancy Rowe of Mathews, who runs Blessed Friends with longtime friend Valerie Bass. “A few were here and there, but six bus groups had cancelled that day for fear of the smoke and fires, eve...

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