Fire ruled arson; hero cops praised

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Firefighters at the scene of Thursday’s apartment fire in West Knoxville. (Source: KFD)

A West Knoxville apartment fire that sent seven people to area hospitals and left nearly a dozen homeless was intentionally set, authorities said today.

“Right now we do not have any suspects or motive, but we have enough to say this wasn’t an accidental fire,” said Assistant Chief Mark Wilbanks of the Knoxville Fire Department.

“This really could have been a bad fire,” he continued. “This could have killed some people. There was the potential for killing some children…That’s horrible, horrible, horrible.”

The fire erupted shortly before 8:45 p.m. at a building in The Country Day apartment complex at 905 Flanders Lane in West Knoxville.

The Knox County E-911 Center received several calls from people trapped in the building. Knoxville firefighters and police officers swarmed to the rescue and managed to evacuate everyone from the structure, although two police officers had to be treated at an area hospital for smoke inhalation due to their efforts.

Those officers, identified as Derek Baird and John Shuler — were praised today for their bravery in rescuing an elderly woman from an apartment. 

“Fires are normally outside the realm of the police department,” said KPD spokesperson Scott Erland. “We are really proud of the courage it took to just jump into that situation and put themselves in harm’s way. It was above and beyond the call of duty.”

Both officers have been released from the hospital and will be formally honored by the department in the near future, Erland said.

A total of five civilians— including three children — were taken to area hospitals to be treated for smoke inhalation. All were expected to recover, according to Wilbanks. 

The three-story structure had six units and the only way out was through a central foyer/landing that housed the stairs and led to the front door, Wilbanks explained. The fire apparently started in the foyer/landing, and the flames trapped everyone in the building inside their apartments until they could escape through windows.

“Somebody might have seen something — somebody running away, a vehicle driving away,” Wilbanks said. “One person might have seen something that could help solve this.”

A reward of up to $5,000 is being offered for information that leads to the prosecution of anyone involved in any criminal activity related to the fire, he added.

Anyone with information about the fire is asked to call 1-800-762-3017 or email KFDArson@knoxvilletn.gov. 

Published on October 14, 2022. Is