Thursday apartment fire started in room where woman had been told to leave

John Thompson • Aug 18, 2017 at 9:33 PM

ELIZABETHTON — Candles or smoking material was suspected of starting an early morning fire Thursday in an apartment building at 711 W. H St. Three families were left temporarily without shelter as a result of the fire, which caused fire damage to one apartment and smoke and water damage to three other apartments.

The apartment building was owned by Sessions Court Judge Keith Bowers Jr. The woman who occupied the room where the fire started was arrested a few hours later on a public intoxication charge in an unrelated matter.

Elizabethton Fire Chief Barry Carrier said the alarm came in at 2:15 a.m., classified as a structure fire to a multiple-family dwelling and possible entrapment. When the fire department arrived on the scene, the firefighters spoke with Jessica Dawn Forbes, 31, who was identified as the occupant of the apartment where the fire started.

She told them she awoke to the smell of smoke in the apartment. She was able to get out through the second-floor window and scrambled down the exterior wall.

According to Eric Buck of the Elizabethton Police Department, Forbes said one of her sisters was able to get out, but another sister and her children were still inside. Carrier said firefighters initially made entry into the building because of possible entrapment, but the other sister was soon contacted by telephone and she said that she and her children were in North Carolina and had last been in the apartment at 3 p.m. She said her other sister was in Indiana.

Buck report said Forbes "appeared to be confused and disoriented." The report went on to say she didn't know what may have started the fire. While speaking with Forbes' sister on the phone, Buck said the sister told him that she and her husband rented the apartment.

Elizbethton Fire Marshal Andy Hardin said the sister said an argument broke out between her and her sister when she left for North Carolina. She said Forbes refused to leave the apartment, so the family pulled the main fuse panel to the circuit breaker, leaving her with no electricity in the apartment.

Buck said Officer Joe Holsclaw came to the apartment at 5 p.m.and Forbes was supposed to vacate the apartment at her sister's request.

Hardin said the cause of the fire could not be completely determined because of the extent of the damage to the apartment. He said candles were found in the area where the fire was believed to have started. Smoking material was also found.

The fire coming from the apartment’s window also burned a power line going to the house next door to the apartment, causing a loss of power to that house and possible electrical damage, Hardin reported.

Several hours later, at 9:11 a.m., Officer Justin Pearce of the police department was dispatched to the back parking lot of a nearby apartment building on a call about a woman arguing with a case worker from Child Protective Services.

The case worker told Pierce she had removed the children from Forbes' custody and moved them to stay with their grandmother. She said Forbes was not supposed to have contact with the children. The case worker said she went to the grandmother's residence to check on the children.

The case worker told Pierce that when she arrived, she found Forbes "passed out" in the front seat of a Dodge Durango. The case worker said she tried to explain to Forbes that she could not be around her children, but she said Forbes appeared to be impaired.

Pearce said he made contact with Forbes and said she "appeared to be impaired and was acting extremely erratic."

Pearce arrested Forbes on a charge of public intoxication. She is scheduled to answer the charge in Sessions Court on Sept. 26.

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