published Friday, November 18th, 2011

East Ridge fire damages condominium units

by Andrew Pantazi

An explosion sounded, then another, and another and another.

After the second boom, Bettye Hill looked outside her Belvoir Hills Estates condominium at 828 Bacon Trail and saw a fire engulfing her neighbor’s condominium units.

Four minutes after a call reached 9-1-1 at 7:36 p.m. Friday, the first responders from the East Ridge Fire Department arrived. Already, the fire was burning all three floors of some units.

A 100-pound propane tank, about five times larger than a tank used on a grill, had exploded, and East Ridge sent out a call for all firefighters to respond, even those who were off duty. About 50 firefighters and 10 engines and two ladder trucks from various agencies responded.

East Ridge police spokesman Officer Erik Hopkins said no residents were injured.

Charlie and Sandi Tatum though had left their two cats and two cockatiels in their home.

“What happened?!” Sandi Tatum screamed again and again. “No Charlie! Not my babies!”

Charlie Tatum, an Army veteran in Vietnam who had been dancing with his wife at an American Legion event earlier that night, tried to walk to his home at unit 68, but two of the emergency responders pulled him away.

“It’s hard not to be frustrated, you know,” one of the responders said to Tatum as they brought him back to his wife.

He and his wife had lived at their home for 11 years. Their 4-year-old whistling cockatiels, Dagwood and Blondie, and their 1-year-old cats, Sassy and Zack, had been home alone.

Condominium units 61 through 68 were damaged or destroyed by the fire.

At 9:50 p.m., Chief Eddie Phillips, the East Ridge public safety director, said he thought the fire was mostly contained.

Hopkins said it wouldn’t be until Sunday or Monday before the structure was safe enough for fire investigators to enter the building and determine what started the fire.

Contact staff writer Andrew Pantazi at or 423-757-6467.

about Andrew Pantazi...

Andrew Pantazi is an intern at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who says that when he was 7 he knew what he wanted to do for the rest of his life: play hockey for the Colorado Avalanche. Unfortunately, he says he wasn't any good at hockey, so he became a journalist instead. He writes about the lives we hide, like the man who suffered a stroke but smiled, or the football walk-on who endured 5 ...

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