Blaze Destroys Knoxville Apartments

A fire that displaced 28 people from a West Knoxville apartment complex started in a second-floor unit where a new tenant was in the midst of moving in, an investigator said Friday.

Knoxville Fire Department investigator Capt. Darrell Whitaker said it appears the fire reported at 11:23 p.m. Thursday at Copper Pointe Apartments, 401 S. Gallaher View Road, was accidental. Whitaker won’t know for sure until he digs through 2 feet of debris that collapsed on the second-floor apartment.

Whitaker said the new tenant was off to get another load of personal belongings when flames erupted in the kitchen. Flames knocked out a kitchen window, licked outside and ignited the roof overhang, sending fire ripping across the roof line.

With no fire breaks between apartments to retard the flames, the blaze quickly spread across the roof over 10 apartments on the upper and lower floors.

A Fire Department chief quickly upgraded the blaze to a two-alarm fire when flames climbed 50 feet high and part of the roof collapsed, said Fire Department Assistant Chief Chris Dyer.

Michelle Hankes, executive director of the East Tennessee Chapter of the American Red Cross, said 28 people in 18 of the occupied apartments were displaced by the blaze. Five families required immediate accommodations Thursday night, while the others had family or friends to stay with, Hankes said.

Red Cross volunteers on Friday were meeting with all the displaced residents to determine the specific needs of each person, Hankes said.

Dyer said he was unsure why it took so long for someone to notice the flames.

“One resident stated they smelled smoke and alerted the other residents,” Dyer said. “They were just lucky it wasn’t any later.”

Within 10 minutes of firefighters’ arrival, the rest of the roof on the part of the building over 10 of the 20 apartments in Building 16 collapsed. Dyer credited a fire wall extending through the roof separating the two portions of the building for slowing the flames enough to allow firefighters to douse the blaze before it climbed across the rest of the roof.

He said 10 apartments were severely damaged by flames. Ten apartments on the other side of the fire wall suffered some smoke and water damage, so those residents also were forced to find other living arrangements.

There were no reported injuries to residents, and none of the firefighters operating nine engine, ladder or pumping devices was injured, Dyer said.

Dyer said a couple of dogs perished in the flames. Hankes said other residents reported their dogs missing.

Whitaker said Copper Pointe had four fires in separate buildings in 2011 and 2012. That rash of blazes prompted property management to review electrical wiring in the laundry rooms, he said.

“They did due diligence and put a lot of electrical work into it,” Whitaker said.

Most of the electrical work involved rewiring power connections for appliances in the laundry rooms, he said.

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