Around 5:30am on January 8, 2020, I and about 95 other people had to live through a real life nightmare. Experiencing any kind of structure fire is something no one ever wants to face nor deal with. The aftermath is probably the hardest, because of the realization of what you had just experienced. You are supposed to receive help from the local Red Cross and that is not what we received.
5:33am I woke up to the terrible sound of an alarm that wasn’t your normal fire alarm in your house, it was so loud and obnoxious. When you get woken up out of a dead slumber you first try to figure out what it is, then it hits… that’s a fire alarm. I first grabbed my phone and started running out but then I realized it is January. I need something to cover me, I grabbed a coat and slippers and ran out the door. Thankfully I was in a small 1 bedroom apartment and couldn’t smell any smoke. My apartment is the first one next to the main entry so I figured it couldn’t be in my area thankfully, for my exit route.
5:36am The gentleman, Brad* who ran out of the complex the same time I did exclaimed, “its my apartment, its on fire.” He ran out with NOTHING except his shirt and shorts on. Now remind you its January in Knoxville, Tennessee. It was about 30 degrees outside or colder. I thankfully had socks and slippers on so I graciously gave my slippers to Brad* and someone else gave him their coat. He couldn’t see either with his glasses being in his burning apartment.
How the fire started:
* In every living room and bedroom there is a wall unit heater built in. *
These are Brad’s* words he told me, “ I turned on the heater in my bedroom, went into the bathroom to take a shower. For some reason and not always do I do this but I wanted my glasses so I can see right after the shower. So I turned around and walked back into the bedroom. Thats when I noticed that the heater was spuing out flames with my curtains already on fire.”
“I grabbed the fire extinguisher, but because I didn’t have my glasses on and my eyes already filling with smoke I could not see or tell where the tab was to pull to make it work. At that moment I decided to just start running down the hall screaming “FIRE.” The alarm then ended up going off throughout the whole building for everyone to evacuate.”
Fire Department showed up within 7 minutes of being notified, thankfully they are literally a block away, so that helped being able to contain to just the 4th floor. No one was reported injured within the building but one Fireman was escorted to the hospital for heat exhaustion.
Around 6:20am the fire was extinguished and around 6:40am the fire Chaplain was coming around to interview and account for everyone in the building. At approximately the same time the Red Cross showed up, they started helping the fire Chaplain with the interview process. We asked immediately about shelter, Red Cross said as long as 10 or more people will need it than they can provide it. Meanwhile we residents are just waiting outside in freezing weather with minimal clothing waiting on what happens next.
Red Cross Takes Over
Around 7:20 am the fire department was able to open up a door at an apartment complex across the street for us to huddle in to warm up. At the moment the Red Cross took over. They informed us that we residents needed to either find a place to stay at OR inform them if we needed a shelter for the next 48 hours or so. About 50 of us according to their interview with the news channel informed them of needing assistance.
8:00am we were given blankets from the Red Cross and about 10 minutes later was given snacks and water. Now I am very thankful I was able to warm up and get a snack in my stomach and hydrate myself.
9:30am – We residents were able to be escorted in per floor to grab a “weekends” worth of clothing and belongings and to unplug everything we had in our apartments.
9:45am – We residents are asking Red Cross if there are any shelters at this time for us to go. At this point we were told they still did not have anywhere for us to go and they had around 30 of us listed for shelter.
10:15am – My neighbor from across the hall came back and asks if we have heard any word on a shelter. I told him what we were told 30 min before so we ask again… This time we are told that we have to go through our rental insurance to get assistance for living. This is where we all start panicking. Everyone starts getting on phones to call their insurances to see if they have hotel assistance. Brad* who lost everything finds out his rental insurance doesn’t cover it, my neighbor and most others also find out they don’t get hotel assistance including myself. Now people are trying to figure out if we can scrounge up some money to all go in for a hotel room or if we can help find people who will let us sleep on their couches until further notice.
*Life lesson, buy premium rental insurance, don’t be cheap with it*
10:30am- Thankfully Brad’s* family was able to drive in from hours away. He was able to go into his apartment and try to collect some of his belongings that might still be of value.
Around the same time “Knoxville Pays It Forward” shows up with shoes and socks for Brad* and gave each of us a basket of toiletries. They are the true hero’s here at this point!
10:45am- I am standing by some of us that remain, trying to figure out housing. When I over hear the fire Chaplain ask the Red Cross. “Now you will be able to help provide this guy with assistance to get new eyeglasses right?” Red Cross Rep,” Oh I don’t know we would have to look into that”
In that moment in time I was stunned by watching and hearing everything going on with all of us involved. This is not the end of the nightmare either…