KNOXVILLE (WATE) - A young mother and her infant son are looking for a new place to live after their South Knoxville apartment was destroyed by fire early Sunday morning.
Jerri Thomas and her one-year-old son Eli were forced from their apartment at Southmont Apartments on Moody Avenue around 8:30 a.m.
Knoxville firefighters were able to keep the fire from spreading to nearby apartments, but they couldn't save the place Thomas and her son have called home for the last year.
"I have to protect him. I'm all he has. I have to protect him," Thomas said.
Thomas says she was awakened by Eli's cries Sunday morning. When she saw their living room filled with black smoke, he was all she could think about.
"All I wanted to do was just scream. So I went into Eli's room and grabbed him and just went straight for the door. The whole back wall of the kitchen was just in flames," said Thomas.
She ran out of the burning apartment and down the stairs, the only escape from the second floor.
Flames shooting from her apartment blocked the stairwell, preventing other residents from getting out until firefighters could put out the blaze.
Firefighters say the damage could have been a lot worse.
"Gained access into that attic, where flames had already broke through and were rapidly moving along that attic space. They were able to push those flames back down into that apartment and keep it from spreading any further," said Knoxville Fire Department spokesman Capt. DJ Corcoran.
The fire was contained to Thomas' apartment. The cause is still under investigation.
"The heaviest burnt portion of the apartment is in the kitchen area, so they're leaning their investigation toward that area," Corcoran said.
No matter how the fire started, it ended with all of the family's belongings destroyed.
"Your whole world comes crashing down in a matter of minutes," said Thomas.
Thomas says she's still trying to come to grips with her loss. She calls it "a nightmare that you want to wake up from but you can't. To wake up and just see that, it was horrible."
The American Red Cross of East Tennessee has paid for Thomas and her son to stay in a hotel for the next three nights. The Red Cross has also provided them with food and clothing.
She hopes to have a new place to call home soon. She has talked with her landlord to see if a vacant apartment is available.
Thomas says she's just glad she and her son were not injured in the fire.