What started as a two-alarm fire grew quickly into an inferno as staff and firefighters rushed to evacuate residents at the Feels Like Home Senior Lifestyles Residences in Hickory Hill. (Photo: Bill Adelman / Adelman Fire Images.)

A community call for help was issued Friday afternoon for displaced seniors of the Feels Like Home Senior Lifestyles Residences gutted by an intense fire that killed one resident and warranted transporting two others to the Regional One Burn Unit.

The aftermath of the fire that killed one, injured two and displaced the surviving residents of the
Feels Like Home Senior Lifestyles Residences. (Photo: Karanja A. Ajanaku/The New Tri-State Defender)

The Memphis Fire Department responded to emergency calls at 7:52 Thursday night (Dec. 29). What started as a two-alarm fire grew quickly into an inferno as staff and firefighters rushed to evacuate residents.

A 72-year-old man, who had not been officially identified Friday night, died in the blaze. The two seniors undergoing treatment at the burn unit were listed in stable condition.

In an initially released statement, the Feels Like Home Senior Lifestyle Residences management team said, “We are heartbroken at the loss of life because every senior is precious to us. …”

Later, noting that the fire had left surviving residents “without a place to call home,” the management team said, “We are doing everything in our power to assist our residents in this time of need.”

Those displaced were moved to the Embassy Suites on Shady Grove.

(Photo: Bill Adelman / Adelman Fire Images)

The fire that swept through two-thirds of the main building destroyed all of the residents’ belongings leaving them in immediate need of clothes, shoes, and toiletries. Donated items can be dropped off at the Embassy Suites at 1022 S. Shady Grove Road. (See below for details)

Here are the options for financial contributions:

The exact cause of the massive fire had not been determined. Total damage was estimated at $1.5 million: $1 million in property damage, and $500,000 in destroyed contents.

Firefighters were met with heavy smoke and fire in the two-story facility. Evacuation of residents and firefighting operations began immediately. The fire’s intensity quickly prompted calls for more equipment and personnel.

A downstairs unit on the south side of the building was determined to be the origin of the fire. However, it was unclear whether the deceased resident lived in that unit.

(Photo: Bill Adelman / Adelman Fire Images.)

“This fire spread throughout what appeared to be three or four wings of the building,” said Bill Adelman, curator of the Memphis Fire Museum, who photographed firefighting operations. “Initial efforts were concentrated on rescuing the residents.”

MFD fought to get the blaze under control for two-and-a-half hours. On the scene were: 12 fire trucks, 25 engines, nine EMS units, and other specialized fire trucks providing technical and rescue support.

The massive presence of fire personnel included: six fire investigators, seven battalion chiefs, three division chiefs, and two EMS Lieutenants.

(Photo: Bill Adelman / Adelman Fire Images.)

Feels Like Home is an independent senior community, which offers residents daily corporate dining as an amenity. Studios, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments, and condos are available for rent to seniors 55 years of age and older.

Residents range from completely independent to those challenged with a range of mobility issues.

Wynetta Harris and her husband, Robert Harris, view the ruins at the Feels Like Home Senior Lifestyles Residences. (Photo: Karanja A. Ajanaku/The New Tri-State Defender)

Among a trickle of people that stopped to view the ruins on Friday afternoon were Wynetta Harris and her husband, Robert Harris. They had attended the Titans-Cowboys football game in Nashville on Thursday night and had not learned of the tragic fire until their return.

Malcolm Ware, who lived in a unit at Feels Like Home Senior Lifestyles Residences, was Wynetta Harris’ brother.

“He’s OK. They got him at the Embassy Suites, but his friend died. … He took care of him (the friend) ‘cause he was blind.”

The New Tri-State Defender is withholding the name of the deceased pending official identification. He is referred to here by the initial of his last name)

“So apparently Mr. (W) couldn’t get out ’cause he’s blind. … He could walk, but he couldn’t see,” Wynetta Harris said. “He depends on my brother … and they said my brother tried to help, you know, go back in and get him out … saying, ‘he’s in there, I got to go get ’em.’ But it burned so fast, he couldn’t save him.”

Ware, 67, had a disability from a head injury suffered years ago but could live on his own, his sister said. He had lived at the senior residences for about a year and a half and had befriended “Mr. W” there. They lived three doors apart.

With the fire ruins framing a sharp backdrop, Robert Harris and Wynetta Harris lament the tragedy that struck close to home for them. (Photo: Karanja A. Ajanaku/The New Tri-State Defender)

“It was a nice place, beautiful inside,” said Wynetta Harris, who added, “I give him his medicine every day. I’m his sister. I have to come over here and make sure he takes his medicine. He’ll tell me, ‘Yeah, I took it.’ Then it will be there. I have to physically watch him. …

“I’m just shocked. I was just here yesterday morning … looking forward to the New Year. I can’t believe it.”

Recalling her brother’s friend, she said, “We done cried and everything coming over here. He was such a sweet man. I don’t know if he had family or not because I’d never seen any family.”

“It breaks my heart,” said Robert Harris, sharing a photo of his brother-in-law leading his friend.

Robert Harris shares a social media photo showing his brother-in-law, Malcolm Ware, leading a blind friend who lived three doors down from him at Feels Like Home Senior Lifestyle Residences. Ware’s friend was killed in the fire that roared through the facility Thursday night. (Photo: Karanja A. Ajanaku/The New Tri-State Defender)

Worried that her brother might not do well at the Embassy Suites, Wynetta Harris and her husband, Robert, headed that way to check on him.

The exact cause of Thursday night’s massive fire had not been determined and the investigation was ongoing on Friday. Total damage was estimated at $1.5 million: $1 million in property damage, and $500,000 in destroyed contents. (Photo: Karanja A. Ajanaku/The New Tri-State Defender)

To donate

Donation collection will be Saturday (December 31)
Embassy Suites Hotel
1022 S. Shady Grove Rd.
10 a.m to 4 p.m.
Items:
* New and gently-loved clothing and shoes for men and women.
* Coats, hats, scarves, gloves, socks, underwear, pajamas, night gowns, robes, house shoes, etc.
* Toiletries (please include items for hair such as combs and brushes).
* Women’s clothing sizes: Medium – XXL
* Women’s Shoes: 7 – 9.5
* Men’s clothing sizes: Medium – 3XL
* Men’s Shoes: 7 – 13

(This story includes a report by TSD Associate Publisher/Executive Editor Karanja A. Ajanaku.)