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Fire destroys apartment in former Hamblen County hotel

7:30 PM, Apr 30, 2011   |    comments
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At least ten people are displaced from their homes after fire broke out in the Whitesburg Apartments in Hamblen County Saturday morning.

Saprena Wilson was asleep on the couch when it happened.

"I woke up to the fire alarm going off, and I walked into the bedroom, and it was like black smoke everywhere," she said.

Wilson ran to wake up the neighbors across the hall who have an infant child and then headed to safety. She could only watch as the smoke billowed from her windows.

"How helpless it is just knowing that everything's going up, and there's not much you can do about it, losing everything," she said.

Firefighters from five departments responded to the fire, containing it mostly to the upper floor.

"We had a lot of manpower here, and it worked out good," said George Jordan, chief of the East Hamblen County Volunteer Fire Department. "Everybody did what they were trained to do and did a good job."

Everyone escaped safely, but Wilson and her live-in boyfriend, Eric Myers, lost a pet hairless rat, bearded dragon and several piranhas.

However, firefighters did manage to save their pet rabbit, Chloe. Myers gave Chloe to Wilson as a Valentine's Day gift.

"I was worried to death about her, and then one of the firefighters brought her out, and I thought she wasn't alive, and then he brought her to me and she was OK," Wilson said. "She's doing pretty good now."

Wilson also salvaged a photo album, which contained a picture of her mother, who died seven years ago.

But nearly everything else was destroyed.

"I just wanted to cry because everything we had, everything I worked hard for is down the drain, you know," Myers said. "I just worked so hard to get this place, you know. Now I got to start back at zero."

Myers was laid off back in November, and, soon after, he and Wilson lost their Rogersville apartment because of the financial struggles. They spent the next month or so essentially homeless, staying with friends and family members wherever they could. They even spent a day in a homeless shelter.

With help from Myers' mother, who had her first apartment in the same building at age 19, the two finally moved in to the Whitesburg Apartments earlier this year. Myers found a new job, and the two say they were just getting on their feet when this latest setback happened. Now, without renter's insurance, they say they'll be forced to start all over again.

"I'm still in shock with it all," Wilson said.

The apartment building used to be the Epsom Springs Hotel, built right off Silver City Road near the railroad tracks.

"It was built by Senter Haun back in 1872, and it was a railroad hotel where they rented rooms by the night and had a kitchen and meals served, and what they mainly transported was turkeys from near Sneedville and pink marble," said Joyce Johnson, who bought the building back in 1978.

She says the old timber and thick layers of plaster that make up the walls helped to prevent the fire from spreading. And, she says she hopes to repair the building with the help of her insurance coverage.

Meanwhile, the Lakeway Area Chapter of the American Red Cross is helping to provide shelter and assistance to those displaced by the fire.

Many at the scene Saturday morning said they struggled just to make ends meet and could not afford renter's insurance.


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