60 homeless in W. Knoxville fire

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KNOXVILLE (WVLT) -- An early morning apartment fire in West Knoxville has left nearly 60 people homeless.

The good news is that everyone made it out safely from the Liberty View apartments, but fire officials say all three floors of the 24-unit complex are likely a complete loss.

Even though there were no injuries, the fire marshal’s office has discovered that it wasn't because of the fire alarms.

They say the fire alarm pull system was not working, and Liberty View’s management was relying strictly on smoke detectors to keep residents there safe.

"About three o'clock I got up and used the bathroom and it sounded like water was running down my shower,” said Krystal Halm, a resident. “I looked outside and there was smoke coming over the top of the building, so I pulled the fire alarm that they installed, but they didn't work."

Fortunately, she had her cell phone with her to call 9-1-1, and while they waited for help, residents began going door-to-door on all three floors of Liberty View to get everyone out as fast as they could.

"I heard someone knocking on the door and they said, 'there's a fire, fire!,'” said James Lay, another resident. “I opened the door and saw the smoke coming from it, and it was blazing."

Lay got out safely and said he didn’t think fire alarms would've stopped the flames.

"The smoke alarms wouldn't have saved it one bit," he said. “If the alarms don't get the sense of the smoke, they will not go off."

Denise Lay, James' estranged wife, said there should be no excuse for non-working fire alarms in a building with nearly 60 people inside.

"I don't think that's right,” she said. “You know, something needs to be done more to make sure that the smoke alarms go off."

James showed up at Denise's home on Thursday morning with just the clothes on his back.

"I opened the door and he's just literally shaking when he walked up on my porch," Denise said. “He's like, ‘I'm out of a place to live,’ and I said, ‘what do you mean you're out of a place to live?’"

For the time being, Denise has graciously opened her door to James.

"My heart is literally broken because people have lost things that are valuable to them,” she said. “I'm just happy that everybody made it out safe."

Knoxville’s Red Cross has put up 57 of the residents in an area hotel.

They have also provided them with comfort kits, toiletry items and money for groceries.

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