(WBIR, Knoxville) - Fourteen people lost everything they owned after flames sparked at their apartments in South Knoxville, leaving city crews no choice but to tear down the building due to safety concerns.
Around 8:30 on Wednesday night, one building in Southwood Apartments, on Sevier Avenue near James White Parkway, caught fire.
"It was horrible. I woke up with smoke everywhere. I thought it was our apartment that was on fire. I looked in the hallway and then I saw the fireball coming from the middle apartment," said Richard Smith, who lived with his mother in an upstairs unit.
Smith woke up his mom, Anita Hall, and the two made it out safely along with all of the tenants.
"We're happy that we're ok, thank God, and that we're safe "
D.J. Corcoran with the Knoxville Fire Department says they believe it started in the attic.
"They feel pretty confident that it was in the attic area. The exact cause may never be known but they feel comfortable enough to say that it doesn't feel like it was maliciously set, it feels like it was an accidental fire."
Two firefighters were injured when part of the roof collapsed while they were working to put out the flames. Both were sent to the hospital, but have since been released. Corcoran says one suffered a concussion and the other had to get stitches.
"We're glad they're ok, we're really thankful to them. They got everybody out fast," said Smith and Hall. "We're really thankful to the fire department. They did everything they could, it was just too big of a fire. "
The damage to the building was severe. The roof collapsed on the 3 story building, and Corcoran says the structural damage was significant.
A little more than 12 hours after the fire started, the building was knocked down.
"The building wasn't structurally safe, and there are a lot of kids that live around here. That doesn't make for a good mix," said Corcoran.
The American Red Cross got to the scene quickly to help with immediate needs. Benjamin Prijatel, the Regional Communications Director, said the need doesn't stop when the flames are put out.
"They got those emergency needs and so now we're kind of seeing what we can do to help their long term needs. These people are going to need lots of clothing, they're going to need a place to stay long term," said Prijatel.
Prijatel said several organizations and churches have already offered help, but the American Red Cross can always use volunteers.
"It's only December and we've already seen so many of these fires," said Prijatel.
This was the third major apartment complex fire in just two weeks. The American Red Cross also sent volunteers to Oak Ridge on Thanksgiving, when flames sparked at McKinzie acres, displacing 25 people. Another 25 people were displaced, also in Oak Ridge, after a fire three days later at another complex.
"Luckily we are one Red Cross. So maybe in other parts of Tennessee they haven't had the fires that we've seen just all in the past couple of weeks. So we're able to use their resources as well to take care of our needs here. "
Prijatel said anyone who wants to make a donation to help victims of the South Knoxville fire can call 865-584-2999.