BRISTOL, Tenn. — Just after 11 a.m. Wednesday, Don Hearl looked out a window of his house on Alabama Street to see what looked like white mist around the clapboard house next door. He thought his neighbor was pressure washing the house. When he ran outside, he realized it was smoke.
“I...ran up the street and saw flames coming out the side of the building,” said Hearl, a 47-year-old sales manager who said he was working from home.
The fire was devouring the upper story of his neighbor’s house, on the 500 block of Alabama Street, just off Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Smoke — black at first, then white under the fire hoses — billowed from the blue house into the even bluer sky.
Hearl, who said he ran outside in the middle of a business call, said he quickly called 911, even though first responders had already begun showing up. The first caller was an employee at Edward Jones Investments, the business in the house on the other side of his neighbor’s burning home, Hearl said.
“It was instant,” he said of the response. “There was already a police person on the scene.”
Bristol Tennessee Fire Chief Mike Carrier said that that police officer showed up at 11:05 a.m., within a minute of the first call. His own crew arrived minutes later.
He said his crew started battling the blaze inside the house, but the flames and smoke eventually forced them out. No one was at home at the time of the fire, the fire chief said.
Two hours later, they were still fighting the fire, and the second story of the house was engulfed in smoke and flames.
One firefighter scaled a ladder to a busted second-floor window, hooking an ankle around the ladder for balance and firing a hose at the ceiling inside. Spurts of water shot like white fireworks through the roof and rolling smoke. A teammate poised high atop a fire truck’s aerial ladder pounded the roof with an even bigger jet of water.
At least four fire trucks and engines from the Bristol Tennessee Fire Department and Avoca Volunteer Fire Department clogged the street below, alongside multiple ambulances and police cars. Rainbows sprang up from the hoses and the mist raining down amid the smell of burning rubber.
Carrier stood across the street from the flames, occasionally delivering orders into a walkie-talkie and directing crew members. He said it would be some time before his team could get back inside the house to investigate the fire’s cause. As of late Wednesday afternoon, his department didn’t have any new information to share about the fire’s status.
By 1:30 p.m., the flames seemed to have retreated to the back of the house, and the smoke had thinned enough to reveal the house’s gutted and blackened second story. A handful of neighbors soberly watched and talked among themselves along the opposite side of the street.
Not the UPS driver who had a package to deliver, though. He strode right past the fray with a box under his arm, deposited it inside the Natural Health Solutions Center in a house across the street from the fire, and headed back to his truck, which he said he’d parked a block away.
The driver — who said he wasn’t allowed to share his name — said it was his second attempt to deliver it.
Correction: The story has been updated to reflect that Don Hearl saw white mist through his window, not a hose and smoke as was originally stated. He realized the "mist" was smoke when he ran outside.
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