Three Chattanooga police officers are recovering from injuries sustained in a Hixson duplex fire while trying to arrest a burglary suspect Sunday night, the police department confirmed Tuesday.
Officers Joe Kerns, Michael Woodling and Britton Virden were injured, and one of them had to be taken to Vanderbilt University's burn center. It wasn't clear which officer that was.
"I appreciate ALL of the prayers, texts, messages, calls and visits," Maria Phillips, fiancee to one of the officers, posted publicly on Facebook. "Joe had a very scary encounter tonight on duty. A suspect from a burglary used an accelerant and lit a home on fire with 3 officers inside [Joe] suffered 1st degree burns to his face and severe smoke inhalation which burned his throat. He is still vomiting black soot but his oxygen is much improved. He had angels surrounding him for sure."
Two of the three officers have already been released, and the third was expected to be sent home on Tuesday or Wednesday, according to the Facebook post.
Police had been trying to detain the suspect, who has not been identified, after he ran into a unit of the duplex in the 5100 block of Eldridge Road around 9 p.m.
As the officers were obtaining a search warrant to enter the residence, they noticed smoke inside the unit. They didn't know if other people were inside, so two patrol officers and one burglary unit investigator went in.
Unable to pull the man out, the officers retreated.
Chattanooga firefighters then arrived and reported seeing "heavy fire coming out of the front of the unit on the left side of the duplex," according to a fire department news release.
There were also flames in the basement where firefighters found the suspect and pulled him out. He remains in critical condition, according to the fire department.
Residents in the neighboring unit escaped and were uninjured.
Chattanooga fire investigators determined the fire had been intentionally set.
The suspect faces an aggravated arson charge, and more charges are pending.
Sunday's fire was the latest in a string of arsons. None of the fires are believed to be connected except for the business fires on Hixson Pike, in which one man was arrested.