Firefighters recall Knoxville's "Night of Disaster"

Twenty-nine years ago, the Knoxville Fire Department experienced one of the busiest nights in its history.

Destructive fires and a catastrophic crash came together to push emergency responders to their limit.

The next day, media reports labeled February 2nd, 1985 as "The Night of Disaster".

Former Knoxville Fire Chief Ed Cureton was working in the department's ambulance division that night.

He summed up his experience in a few short words.

"It was just a busy, busy night," he said.

It all started around 6:10pm. Cureton said emergency crews were called to the Tennessee River after hearing reports that a car had driven over the Gay Street Bridge.

Divers with the Knox County Volunteer Rescue Squad swam through the cold water in search of a young female driver.

They found her about an hour later, but at that point, it was too late.

"The situation being what it was, it was handled the best it could be handled," said Chuck Storey, the former spokesperson for the Knoxville Public Safety Department.

At the same time, another emergency needed attention just a few city blocks away.

The vacant House-Hasson Warehouse Warehouse in World's Fair Park is ablaze. Cureton recalled that it was a five-alarm fire.

It is here where the night's cold temperatures first come into play.

"It was so cold that the equipment froze in place and we couldn't move it," said Cureton. "It went on all night long."

All of this happens as another situation, even more explosive, starts up in East Knoxville, just off Prosser Road.

There is a fire at the Bill Mullins warehouse.

Soon after, firefighters discover trailers in and around the property that contain aerosol cans, which under the intense heat, begin to explode.

"It blew holes through the front windows of the [fire truck]," Cureton said.

But, the Knoxville Fire Department's night is still far from over.

"We had four major incidents that all occurred within an hour of one another," Cureton said.

One more call came over the radio. Firefighters heard there was a three story building on fire back on Gay Street.

It was the old Golden Dragon Chinese restaurant.

"Which was a two alarm fire," Cureton said.

At that point, all emergency crews downtown were tied up.

Outlying fire halls had to come in to the area to give assistance.

The disasters would ultimately not stop until daybreak, when all the fires would be put out.

In the end, 75 firefighters would work that night and 24 pieces of firefighting apparatus would be used.

Cureton said no firefighters were seriously injured in any of the incidents that took place on the Night of Disaster.


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