Apartment fire forces long battle in cold temps on Milligan Hwy.

John Thompson • Dec 31, 2012 at 11:47 AM

ELIZABETHTON — Firefighters from the Elizabethton Fire Department battled a stubborn fire in the roof of a small apartment building for about eight hours on Monday morning. The firefighters remained on the scene for several more hours to make sure the fire did not restart.

Chief Barry Carrier said that all the residents evacuated the apartment building before the fire department arrived. "The smoke detectors worked," Carrier said of the early morning emergency.

Carrier said two residents sustained injuries. One had second-degree burns on his hand and the other had a small burn on his forehead. Carrier said both residents refused treatment from the Carter County Rescue Squad, but he understood they went to the emergency room later.

The fire was in a three-unit apartment building in the 1500 Block of the Milligan Highway. A deputy with the Carter County Sheriff's Department gave the first report that there was smoke coming from the roof at 2:30 a.m.

Capt. Todd Montgomery was the first firefighter on the scene. He said the fire in the roof "was a nightmare for all of us." All three of the city's fire stations responded to the fire.

Carrier said the problem was with the way the roof was built.

"I believe it was an old service station that had been converted into apartments," Carrier said.

Montgomery said there were two roofs. The original roof was a flat roof which was covered with tar and gravel.

There was a layer of decking and then what looked like floor joists, Montgomery said. The tar and gravel was placed over that. Then trusses were added and a new sloped roof was added. The unusual construction meant the firefighters could not get directly at the fire.

"At first we went inside, but sections of the ceiling were coming down and we had to pull out," Montgomery said. The firefighters then tried to attack the fire through a gable vent, but that did not provide access to the hot spot."

"We just had to go with a defensive attack to keep the fire from spreading," Montgomery said.

The fire burned through the outer roof, providing access for the firefighters to the center of the fire. Carrier said the department's ladder truck was used to attack the opening. Even after the fire was exposed to the firefighters, the hot tar was difficult to extinguish. "We had to use copious amounts of water," Carrier said.

The building was set back only a short distance from the Milligan Highway, requiring traffic to be detoured around the fire. "That is why I believe it was a service station, it was so close to the road," Carrier said. The freezing temperatures and ice also made it difficult for the firefighters.

Carrier said there was a possibility that two or three cats and dogs may have died in the fire. He said the firefighters evacuated one cat and residents evacuated other dogs and cats.

Even though it was a difficult fire, Carrier said "the boys did an excellent job, as always."

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