The fire that killed a 3-year-old boy at a South Knoxville apartment building on Monday night was accidentally started when someone carelessly discarded smoking materials, according to the Knoxville Fire Department.
Something tossed into a container on the second-floor balcony - "It could have been a match; could have been a cigarette," Capt. D.J. Corcoran said - started a blaze that traveled up the outside wall into the attic of South Ridge Apartments at 1321 Bertie Rand St., just before 11 p.m.
The balcony was attached to the apartment in which the 3-year-old victim lived with his mother, Corcoran said. Firefighters found the pair unconscious and suffering from severe smoke inhalation. They were rushed to the University of Tennessee Medical Center.
The child later was pronounced dead, and the mother was transferred to the intensive care unit Tuesday morning, Corcoran said. Authorities have not yet released their identities.
Thirty-eight residents of the three-story building were displaced. The American Red Cross is assisting those residents with temporary housing.
If her daughter hadn't noticed the strange popping sounds coming from the apartment, Cecilia Houston said they might not have escaped in time.
Houston ran clear of the fire barefooted and wearing only a nightgown before flames overran her top-floor unit.
"My daughter said, 'Momma, I hear something popping,' " Houston said after returning Tuesday morning to see the damage. "When I passed her bedroom you could see from the window - flames, it just looked like a movie, just flames coming up."
Houston and other residents at the scene Tuesday, however, said they never heard the alarm of a smoke detector before spotting the smoke and flames.
"I heard no smoke detectors, no nothing," Houston said. "If my daughter hadn't come and got me, I don't think I would have been here to talk about it."
Houston said she didn't know her downstairs neighbors by name.
"He was so cute, that little boy," she said. "That's so sad."
A third resident was taken to Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center with non-life-threatening injuries and minor smoke inhalation.
Cathy DuBose, who lives at the other end of the 24-unit building, was stepping out for a bite to eat with her daughter and granddaughter when they noticed smoke, but no flames, that appeared to be coming from the patio of the apartment where the mother and child lived. They also could see the light of a TV through the window. None of the three heard a smoke alarm.
DuBose's granddaughter, Bre'Onna Randolph, said she knocked on the door to the unit several times without a response.
"Nobody came out," Randolph said. Firefighters later had to force their way inside.
All smoke alarms in the building worked properly when they were inspected less than two years ago, he said, although Corcoran could not confirm whether any smoke alarms sounded Monday night.
A pull-station alarm was activated and sounding before firefighters arrived, the fire captain confirmed.
"I heard no smoke detectors, no nothing. If my daughter hadn't come and got me, I don't think I would have been here to talk about it."
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