COLUMBIA, Tenn. (WKRN) — Three people were transported to area hospitals after a nine-unit apartment complex in Columbia erupted in flames Tuesday.
One of the residents, a 64-year-old woman, is critically injured and is now recovering in the burn unit at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
It all happened early Tuesday morning, when frantic calls from residents began pouring in to 911. Columbia Fire and Police quickly got on scene at 132 Brannon Court.
Chief Ty Cobb said the first order of business was rescuing people who were in their apartments and could not get out due to intense flames and thick smoke.
“Life safety is our first responsibility,” said Chief Cobb.
Sue Sullivan, an 87-year-old resident of Columbia Meadows Apartments for ten years tells News 2 that she was shocked to wake from a deep sleep, only to be facing smoke and flames.
“I followed him out, and flames were coming through there, and from there on everything went wild. I said oh my god!”
Sullivan has limited mobility and said it was frightening. She credited first responders and other residents for getting her neighbors to safety.
“Everyone tried. Everyone did everything they could,” the grandmother of 15 tells News 2.
Video obtained by News 2 shows six companies consisting of 30 firefighters battling the two-alarm blaze that consumed much of the nine-unit building. Many of the residents are elderly, some infirmed.
The video shows firefighters selflessly going into thick smoke and knocking down the flames, apartment by apartment, to search for as many as 13 residents, some of whom were trapped.
Chief Cobb said Columbia’s first responders are heroes.
“I think they are heroes. Nothing will stop them from jumping in and saving a life. They demonstrated that this morning when they jumped into action and saved three occupants and got them out and four pets were also rescued from this apartment complex,” said Chief Cobb.
As with any disaster, it took a few minutes for help to arrive. And in the terrifying moments before Columbia fire units got on scene, it was pandemonium as residents called 911 for help.
On the call, you can hear a resident distressed, huffing and puffing, walking the large complex that is burning unchecked.
Several residents can be heard banging on doors, yelling for people to wake up and get out. At one point you hear a woman scream, and someone says their hair is on fire.
In the end, firefighters rescue everyone, but three people are transported to area hospitals. Sullivan said one of her neighbors was badly burned.
“Someone said when she come out, she was real charred and everything.”
The cause of this fire is under investigation. The TBI and Fire Marshal’s Office were on scene investigating. The American Red Cross is also assisting the occupants of the nine units.
Columbia Fire officials ask if anyone saw anything out of the ordinary to contact fire investigators.