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Nearly 300 moved out of Summit Towers for safety reasons due to elevator issues after small fire

The elevators are a necessity for residents of the tower, as the building is home to people 62 and older and those with disabilities.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Nearly 300 people are being moved out of Summit Towers in Knoxville for safety reasons after elevators that provide necessary access for people with mobility issues started having problems following an early morning fire.

According to the Knoxville Fire Department, crews are helping to relocate approximately 278 people at 201 Locust Street, saying the small morning fire set off the sprinkler system and brought down the elevator system.

The Fire Marshal ordered the evacuation Tuesday evening.

"[There was] a fire in one residence last night. The sprinkler system did exactly what it was supposed to do and it saved the lives of the people in this building," said Paul Trumpore, the Knoxville Fire Department Chaplain.

KFD said it is working with the American Red Cross of East Tennessee to find temporary housing for everyone.

"We're in a slow position to be able to start moving right now, because we have some other pieces of the wheel to catch up first," Trumpore said. 

They're working to get the residents into shelters as quickly as they can, he said. He said the pace will depend on how they need to travel, how many people can fit into a bus. He said they can usually only put two people into a truck if they need a wheelchair.

He said he has no concern with the structural stability of the structure, but fixing the water and electrical issues will take time. The American Red Cross said they will be able to start signing people into temporary housing at around 9 p.m. for the Jacob Building at 3301 East Magnolia Avenue.

Sharon Hudson with the Red Cross said they were trying to find a shelter that can accommodate up to 400 people. One shelter was available at Central Baptist of Bearden -- but said that shelter would not be able to accommodate all 278 people.

Some of the people who live there said they knew there was something going on last night, but didn't find out they were being evacuated until about 7 p.m. Tuesday. 

"Nobody told me anything different. I just came from my room just a few minutes ago," James Robertson said.

Many said they did not have any other choices on where to live. Robertson himself said he was from Michigan and could not reach out to anyone in East Tennessee.

Resident Mary Sharp wishes there would have been a shelter prepared before they started evacuating people into the lobby. 

"They need to have a better evacuation plan because most of us don't have family we can just hop in a car and go to," she said.

Millennia Housing Management, the company that owns and operates Summit Towers and Morningside Gardens in Knoxville, said all hands are on deck to resolve the issue. It is currently working with elevator repair vendors to gather the necessary parts to fix the issue.

Summit Towers is an apartment community for people 62 years old and older as well as people living with disabilities and is located near the Lincoln Memorial University Duncan School of Law in downtown Knoxville.