Four children were killed when fire destroyed a Friendsville home early Tuesday morning. The mother and father escaped the blaze with their 3-year-old son.
Killed in the fire were Mandy Mason, age 14; J.T. Debuty, 12; Sinjin Smith, 10; and Shelby Debuty, 7. Parents Ross and Amanda Debuty were able to get out of the wood-frame house with Raymond Debuty, age 3.
Blount County Sheriffs Office investigators were working
Tuesday to determine the cause and origin of the fire, which
ignited shortly before 5 a.m. at the home on Miser Station Road.
Neighbor Austin "Bugs" Pointon said his wife woke him when she saw the fire.
"It was already blazing. It was about 20 (minutes) after 5, and she looked out the window and saw the flames, and then she told me," Pointon said. "It was all blazing. I looked down (at the burning home). That was the awfulest blaze."
Pointon said the Debuty family had lived at the residence for about 10 years.
Blount County Fire Department and Friendsville Volunteer Fire Department responded to the call.
"The upstairs and the roof had flames shooting off the roof, and it was pretty well engulfed," said Chief Doug McClanahan with the Blount County Fire Department. The upstairs of the home was burned away by the fire.
McClanahan said he understood that when the mother, father and 3-year-old child escaped the house, flames had engulfed the structure.
The chief said the firefighters were hoping for a miracle, but unfortunately they didnt get one. McClanahan said that when firefighters pull up to a burning structure as they did to this one, they hope anyone inside has somehow gotten to a room unaffected by the flames. "You have to keep that hope alive," he said.
The chief said Blount County Fire Department and Friendsville Volunteer Fire Department personnel were both called out to respond to the fire. "We worked as one," he said. Tanker trucks from Blount County Fire Department and Friendsville Volunteer Fire Department were used to bring water to fight the blaze. "We never ran out of water," McClanahan said.
The chief said the tragedy weighed heavily on the firefighters emotions.
"I cant imagine losing four kids," the chief said. "I cant imagine losing one kid. We hope friends and neighbors will be there for support and, of course God is there to comfort them."
The Blount County Sheriffs Office, the Loudon County Sheriffs Office, Blount County Fire Department, Friendsville Volunteer Fire Department and Rural/Metro Rescue Squad are holding a fundraiser Saturday, Feb. 10, for the family.
Emergency services workers will conduct a "boots and buckets" fundraiser campaign on West Lamar Alexander Parkway at the Blount/Loudon County line on Saturday between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. to raise money for the Debuty family.
One hundred percent of the money collected from motorists who stop will go to the family.
"This is a devastating loss," Sheriff James Berrong said. "Everyone who responded to this scene was deeply impacted by it, and we all wanted to help out in some way. We would love to see the community come out and contribute to this cause."
Betty Hale, director for the Blount County Chapter of the American Red Cross, said personnel brought coffee and food for the fire, rescue and law enforcement who responded to the fire.
"Theyve been here since 5 oclock in extremely cold temperatures with water frozen on their bunker gear," she said of firefighters.
Hale said disaster trauma mental health professionals with Red Cross were being made available at William Blount High School and Friendsville Elementary School where the deceased children were students.
For children to hear about such a tragedy en route to school is traumatic. "Friendsville Elementary lost three students. This affects a lot of students," Hale said. "Thats pretty tough."
The Red Cross is accepting material donations on behalf of the family. Donations may be left at the Red Cross office on Robert C. Jackson Drive at West Lamar Alexander Parkway.
There were three trucks and 14 firefighters from Friendsville Volunteer Fire Department and 18 firefighters with seven trucks from Blount County Fire Department.
Editors Note: An in-cruiser video of the fire scene and the audio of the call to the 911 Emergency Center is available at our sister papers website at the address below. Please be aware that the audio portion of the video is very poignant and heartbreaking.