Fire investigators work to determine cause of massive apt. blaze

Fire investigators work to determine cause of massive S. Knox apartment blaze

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Flames engulfed the three story apartment complex within 20 minutes, spreading quickly through the attic. Flames engulfed the three story apartment complex within 20 minutes, spreading quickly through the attic.
A bulldozer demolished the building Thursday morning. A smoke detector could be heard amongst the rubble, but residents say they never heard any alarm. A bulldozer demolished the building Thursday morning. A smoke detector could be heard amongst the rubble, but residents say they never heard any alarm.
"We were not able to go in after the fire because it wasn't safe, and not to be able to go inside and see the pattern of the fire makes it really hard to tell how it spread," said Fire Marshal Danny Beeler. "We were not able to go in after the fire because it wasn't safe, and not to be able to go inside and see the pattern of the fire makes it really hard to tell how it spread," said Fire Marshal Danny Beeler.

By ALEXIS ZOTOS
6 News Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Fire investigators are working to determine what caused Wednesday night's massive apartment fire in South Knoxville, but say it appears accidental at this time.

The massive fire broke out in building D of the Southwood apartment complex on Sevier Avenue around 8:30 p.m.

All 14 residents made it out safely. Flames engulfed the three story apartment complex within 20 minutes, spreading quickly through the attic. Within a hour the roof was gone and the building declared a total loss.

"It was unsafe for them to go in. The fire had done such damage to the building that it was bowing in some areas," said Knoxville Fire Department spokesperson D.J. Corcoran.

Crews continued to hit hot spots Thursday morning as a bulldozer demolished the building. A smoke detector could be heard amongst the rubble, but residents say they never heard any alarm.

"If a fire starts above the ceiling, which would be the attic, smoke and heat rises so the tenants or the smoke alarms might not have detected the smoke," said Fire Marshal Danny Beeler.

"We didn't hear any alarm. I woke up from the smoke itself. I first thought our apartment was on fire until I looked out the hallway and saw the flames in the middle apartment," said resident Richard Smith.

For families that hoped there might be something to salvage, the sight of the demolished building was hard to bear. The massive fire spread quickly throughout the building, giving its residents little time to escape.

"I was laying on the couch, and my son was in the bed, and I remember him waking me up. He said 'Mom the apartments on fire, get up,' and I got up immediately. I saw all the smoke and I put on my shoes and my coat and we ran out the door," said resident Anita Hall.

Within 10 minutes, their third floor apartment was engulfed. There was no time to grab their belongings.

"My boyfriend died January 2, and all the pictures and his clothes were in there," Hall said, tearfully.

Hall said her son Richard saved her life, but their pets, three birds and two fish, didn't make it.

"We actually thought this morning we'd have a chance to look through to see if anything was salvageable, but we got here and it was torn down. All our photos, all our clothes, her pets, things I had from childhood, it's all gone," said Hall.

The Southwood Apartments were built in 1968, and according to Beeler, were up to code.

"This particular building probably was required to have draft stops, which are different from fire walls. It slows down the movement of heat and smoke," said Beeler.

Those draft stops won't stop the flames, and with a wide open space like an attic, there was little to stop this fire.  They do believe, though, this fire was an accident.

"We don't feel like it was malicious to any extent, but with few clues left, it may be difficult to determine what might have been the cause," said Corcoran.

"We were not able to go in after the fire because it wasn't safe, and not to be able to go inside and see the pattern of the fire makes it really hard to tell how it spread," said Beeler.

Alarms were all working and were checked just three weeks ago. Officials are working to place the eight families that were displaced into vacant apartments.

The fire marshal says officials have received numerous fire calls to the complex in past years, but they have all been contained to one apartment and were nothing to this extent.

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