Dozens of Chattanooga families are in need of help after a massive fire burned them out of their Carriage Parc apartments early Friday morning. Local agencies are stepping in to help, including setting up an overnight shelter for those without a warm place to sleep.
Fire investigators said the blaze started from a lit cigarette butt in a flower pot in Apartment 1422 of Building 14, and it quickly grew out of control. Icicles draped a section of Carriage Parc Apartments, showing just how rude a wakeup call it was for families.
"They beat on the door (and were) like 'Fire!" So, I got up, grabbed my shoes, and everybody came out the house," said Deaunte Evans, whose family lived in building that caught fire.
More than 70 people were thrown from their homes, and firefighters said dozens of apartments are destroyed.
"That's a lot of people, especially in 11 degrees overnight. We don't want them to have to worry about possibly sleeping in a car because it's just not humanly possible," said Greg Waite, of the American Red Cross of Chattanooga.
Red Cross volunteers opened a shelter at East Brainerd Church of Christ, and they have food and drinks ready for residents looking to save on a meal.
"They have a place where they can get food. They can get toiletries. They can start to talk to other people about the recovery process," said Waite. "Our ultimate goal is to try to get everybody impacted from start to finish back on their feet."
Displaced families visited the shelter, trying to pick up pieces of their lives after many woke up to the smell of smoke.
"It was so weird. I didn't know what to think," said Shir Taub, a displaced resident.
Firefighters said the damage done was accidental, and many are left with just the clothes on their backs.
"The trauma of it could hit them at any point. We want to make sure that they know we have people available that can help them walk and talk through it," said Waite. "It's OK. We know that they're going to be upset by it and rightfully so."
Volunteers said the shelter will stay open through Saturday for now, and then the Red Cross will become a service center to make sure all families affected have what they need.
To help any of those displaced families, the Chattanooga Red Cross has an account set up at First Tennessee Bank. Affected families also need clothing, pots and pans, school supplies and furniture. Also accepting donations are MAA-owned apartment complexes, including Hamilton Pointe, Hidden Creek, Steeplechase and Windridge. Contact the office at Carriage Parc for more information at (423) 893-5102. By Briona Arradondo