MFD: South Memphis rooming house fire ‘appears to be accidental’

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Firefighters are trying to figure out what caused a blaze that sent several people, including young children, running for safety and destroyed a South Memphis rooming house.

Residents said they believe this was no accident. But the Memphis Fire Department said Tuesday evening that the fire “appears to be accidental.”

Huddled together under blankets, Billy Lowe and his four young kids watched as fire fighters put out a fire in the rooming house they had been calling home on Tate Avenue.

They were grateful a neighbor got them out in time.

“I heard some banging on the door like, boom, boom, boom, ‘the house is on fire, the house is on fire,” Lowe said.

“I woke up, fire was everywhere,” Anthony Washington said. “They were like hurry up, hurry up, get out of the house.”

Washington was asleep in a front bedroom. He said another resident came in and woke him up.

“Everybody had to evacuate the house because there was smoke everywhere,” Washington said.

The owner of the rooming house couldn’t say how many people were living there or were inside when the fire broke out, but he said he believes the fire was intentionally started by a tenant.

Lowe said that tenant told a neighbor the boarding house was on fire before taking off and said any one of his children could have been seriously hurt. 

“That’s kind of crazy,” he said. “Anyone to do anything like that, they ain’t got no sense.”

People who live at the house said the house did have a working smoke detector.

Washington said he slept right through the alarm. Lowe remembered hearing it as they were leaving but credited his neighbor with saving their lives. 

“If it wasn’t for my neighbor, he tried to put the fire out, but then he came and got us,” Lowe said. “He told all of us what we needed to get out.”

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