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KFD: Planned Parenthood clinic fire is suspected arson; $2.2 million estimated to rebuild in addition to renovations

Knoxville Fire Department reported the working fire at 6:50 a.m. at 710 N. Cherry St. The clinic was closed for renovations.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Update (1/6/21): The Knoxville Fire Department said it believes the fire that burned down a Planned Parenthood medical facility in Knoxville was intentionally set.

According to Planned Parenthood CEO Ashley Coffield, it would take $2.2 million to rebuild Knoxville's center. That’s in addition to the $2.2 million it already spent on the renovation project.

“We are heartbroken at the loss of our beautiful new building, but I am here to tell you that we are committed to Knoxville and East Tennessee, and we are determined to rebuild,” Coffield said. "The fire on Dec. 31 erased the hard work of many, many people, including our staff, our board of directors, our donors, our contractor."

The Knoxville Fire Department, along with help from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said it believed the fire was intentionally set Thursday afternoon. Officials said the person or persons responsible were not in custody and have not been identified.

"Knoxville wants Planned Parenthood," Coffield said. "Our patients need us to be here, and we are going to be here. I want to thank the Knoxville community for your outpouring of support."

Authorities said the fire had already breached through the roof, showing that the fire had been burning for some time before the fire department arrived. It took KFD around four hours to extinguish it. Construction at the center may have contributed to how quickly the fire spread, they said in a release.

People can donate to Planned Parenthood online, through its website.

Anyone with information about the arsonist or arsonists involved should reach out to KFD at 1-800-762-3017 or email them at KFDArson@Knoxvilletn.gov. There is a reward of up to $10,000 for information.

“Local and federal authorities have determined that the fire at our Knoxville health center on December 31 was an intentional, criminal act,” said Coffield. “This is an appalling and heartbreaking act of violence towards Planned Parenthood, our patients, and our community. Unfortunately, this is not the first time we have mourned at this health center."

She said they will work to establish a safe operating site and reconvene services for patients as quickly as possible. They said the arson would not stop Planned Parenthood from providing health care in Knoxville.

It was the second attack on the health center in less than a year. On Jan. 22, the 48th anniversary of Roe V. Wade, a gunman shot into the front doors of the center. No injuries were reported, and the suspect was not found.

State Representative Eddie Mannis condemned the arson while commending KFD, also saying that he trusted the Knoxville Police Department and other agencies to work diligently in finding the person who did it.

The intentional destruction of Knoxville’s Planned Parenthood clinic is unacceptable and wrong, regardless of your...

Posted by State Rep Eddie Mannis on Friday, January 7, 2022

Update (1/4/21): The East Knoxville Planned Parenthood clinic is a "total loss" following a fire early Friday, according to the Knoxville Fire Department.

"Currently the fire is under control and should be declared out shortly," a statement from KFD read Friday morning.

KFD Assistant Chief Mark Wilbanks said the building was "a total loss."

The fire is currently under investigation, according to Wilbanks, and further information will be released as the investigation continues.

The investigation will include sending in authorities to look for signs of arson.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said Friday it's been asked to assist. An arson investigator from the ATF was also en route to the scene. 

Wilbanks said early in the investigation, investigators did not see any signs of a "suspicious fire," and the fire could've started accidentally. 

However, Wilbanks said because of the political situation with Planned Parenthood, they asked other agencies to assist. 

The FBI and the Knoxville Police Department said they are not involved in the investigation. 

Credit: Cole Sullivan

The president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and Mississippi, Ashley Coffield, released a statement in regards to the fire:

"A fire occurred at Planned Parenthood’s Knoxville health center at 710 N. Cherry Street early Friday morning. Our top priority is the health and safety of our patients and staff, and we can confirm that no one was hurt. The health center has been temporarily closed since December 7, 2021 for renovation. This is a huge loss for the community, and we hope that there are no resulting injuries or damage to neighboring properties. We are fully cooperating with the authorities as they assess the cause of the fire.”

Savannah Bearden, director of communications for Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi, said the Knoxville health center served nearly 4,000 patients in 2021.  More than 2,400 patients were there for family planning, which includes primary birth control and testing for sexually transmitted infections. 815 were abortion patients, and 712 sought gender-affirming hormone therapy.

The clinic had posted that it was closed for renovation "to enhance and expand our patient services.

"This closure is unfortunate but necessary to maintain our strict standards of safety, privacy and care for our patients. We deeply apologize for any inconvenience."

The clinic added: "We look forward to celebrating with you at our grand re-opening in spring 2022!"

PREVIOUS STORY: The Knoxville Fire Department worked a heavy fire Friday morning at the Planned Parenthood clinic at 710 N. Cherry St. in Knoxville.

Arson investigators were to comb the scene when conditions allowed to see if they could find signs of a deliberate blaze.

The clinic was closed and undergoing renovations.

KFD posted on Twitter that fire crews responded to the fire about 6:50 a.m. Friday.

According to Assistant Fire Chief Brent Seymour, the first phone call came in around 6:40 a.m. When firefighters arrived, the flames were coming through the roof. Because of the heavy fire inside, crews opted to fight it from the outside.

No injuries were reported. Seymour said that arson investigators will examine the scene as soon as it is safe. However, finding the cause of the fire may be difficult as the whole building was "completely destroyed."

The clinic had posted on its website that it was undergoing renovations.

On Jan. 22, a man fired a shotgun into the glass front door of the clinic on the 48th anniversary of the landmark abortion decision Roe V. Wade. The FBI and Knoxville police investigated.

That attack happened about 6 a.m.

A man waiting to catch an Uber saw the gunman, according to a KPD report.

The man told officers he was standing just east of the clinic when he saw a black sedan in the clinic parking lot.

The man mistook the driver for his ride.

"(The man) stated that he walked up to the vehicle and observed the white male holding and pointing a shotgun towards the front doors of the doctor's office," the report states.

Once the man realized the driver, who had a bandanna on his face, had a gun, "he took off running."

Police found that the glass front door had been shot out when they arrived. Security cameras recorded the incident.

Clinic operators say they cleaned up the mess and promptly got back to offering health care. They provide a variety of services to male and female patients. They offer a pill form of abortion at the center.

According to Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi, it was the first reported act of "targeted violence" in the affiliate’s history.