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Photo by Patrick Filbin / Scenes from move-in day at Patten Towers in downtown Chattanooga Wednesday morning.

This story was updated Wednesday, May 26, 2021, at 11:20 p.m. to clarify the number of residents that have returned to Patten Towers.

Brenda Carter surprised herself when she got chills as she admitted looking forward to something so simple: She'd have her own stove again, a stove to cook for herself at home for the first time in months.

Chills gave way to tears in her eyes. She was surprised by those, too. It caught her off guard how excited she was to be back home, to see all the familiar faces getting off the bus on 11th Street and carrying boxes up to the 11th floor.

"I thank God that I'm alive," Carter said. "I'm so glad to be home."

Carter was one of 103 residents of Patten Towers who moved back into their apartments this week, two months after a fire forced all the residents out.

In March, residents at Patten Towers were evacuated and one was injured as they attempted to escape a seventh-floor fire in downtown Chattanooga.

The call went out at 10:36 a.m. on Saturday, March 27. Nearly every company working for the Chattanooga Fire Department responded. At the time, the fire department said in a news release that off-duty members of the department came in, including the command staff, to assist, and many mutual aid partners filled in at the fire halls.

A number of firefighters helped with evacuations, which was difficult because a number of the residents were non-ambulatory and needed to be carried out of the building.

The fire, which was started by someone on the seventh floor smoking in their bed, was extinguished at 11:44 a.m. The fire department later found out a man "fell asleep and woke up to his bed on fire."

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Photo by Patrick Filbin / Scenes from move-in day at Patten Towers in downtown Chattanooga Wednesday morning.

Floors 7, 8 and 9 of the building were "severely impacted" by the fire, and those residents were transported from the scene by CARTA. Residents of floors 1 through 6 were asked to shelter in place as groups such as the Red Cross worked to find temporary housing for them.

The seventh floor fire left the apartment building condemned until repairs were made. All 184 residents had to be moved to temporary shelters such as local hotels and motels.

Martha Hopkins, the regional vice president of Elmington Capital, which owns the building, said Wednesday that 75 people had moved in earlier in the week and another 28 were scheduled for Wednesday.

"Many of the residents have been staying with their family and friends, others have been in hotels for months, and we're really excited to have them back," she said. "Everything's been going smooth today, and we're hoping to have everyone back by the end of the week."

Hopkins said help from the city of Chattanooga, CARTA, the Enterprise Company, the American Red Cross and many others has helped speed along the process to get people back in the building.

Carter said the hospitality at the Baymont hotel was fantastic, but she's happy to finally have a place to call her own.

Erected in 1908 at the corner of Market and East 11th streets, the Hotel Patten was Chattanooga's first skyscraper and hosted three presidents before and after they were elected — President William Howard Taft in 1911, Warren G. Harding in 1920 and John F. Kennedy in 1953.

The hotel was later converted to an apartment complex, a 196,500-square-foot structure that houses dozens of low- to moderate-income residents.

Contact Patrick Filbin at pfilbin@timesfreepress.com.

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