David Hirsch watched as fire churned through his apartment building, watched as firefighters tore into the walls and ceiling trying to contain the flames.
"They started to cut the roof, and there were flames and smoke everywhere," Hirsch said. "It got bad."
Six units -- but not Hirsch's -- were damaged by fire Monday afternoon at Mountain Creek Apartments near the base of Signal Mountain.
Up to 40 residents had to find another place to stay because the wiring also was damaged by the fire and electrical service had to be disconnected to the entire building, according to the Chattanooga Fire Department.
However, firefighters arrived quickly enough to rescue dogs, cats and at least one bird.
When firefighters arrived at 936 Mountain Creek Road, they upgraded the site to a two-alarm fire, which calls in six engines.
"Maintenance spotted a fire on the third floor," fire department spokesman Bruce Garner said.
The fire was discovered shortly before 3 p.m. on Monday by maintenance workers, who told firefighters they saw smoke and flames coming from the balcony of an apartment on the third floor. They tried to put the fire out with portable fire extinguishers, but the flames were too intense, so they backed off and activated a pull alarm, Garner said.
Lt. Andrew Waters with the Fire Investigation Division said improperly discarded cigarettes on or near the balcony of an apartment on the third floor was the likely cause of the fire.
Waters said six apartment units had significant damage. He said two had substantial fire damage, two had water damage and two others had smoke damage.
Garner said firefighters had to make "trench cuts" -- holes through walls and ceilings that allow them to extinguish flames inside the walls and to thread their hoses through the building.
Hirsch said he saw a firefighter on a stretcher. Garner confirmed that two officers were taken to Erlanger hospital for heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation, but both have been released.
Garner said the fire might have spread to other apartments if not for a firewall that bisects the building.
Hawthorne Residential Partners owns the complex.
Five members of the American Red Cross visited the apartment complex as well, offering help in finding temporary housing for those displaced.
Contact staff writer Steve Hardy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6476.