Chattanooga fire investigators arrested a woman Thursday afternoon in connection with the morning house fire at 1850 Newell Ave. After examining the burn patterns in the house and interviewing several people, Lt. Henry McElvain with the Fire Investigation Division suspected that the fire had been deliberately set. Lt. McElvain said he was sure after interviewing Melissa Freeman, 36, who has a mortgage on the house and lived there with her two daughters, ages 14 and 18. Her daughters were reportedly away at school at the time of the fire.
Though Ms. Freeman denied starting the fire, Lt. McElvain said there was plenty of evidence to suggest otherwise, so he charged her with arson. She was later transported by Chattanooga Police to the Hamilton County Jail for booking.
Fellow fire investigator Lt. Andrew Waters assisted with the investigation and arrest. The dollar loss to the house and contents was estimated at around $40,000.
Lt. McElvain said the pit bull that was taken away by McKamey Animal Center actually threatened the firefighters when they arrived to extinguish the fire. As they entered the fenced-in yard, the unrestrained pit bull lunged at some of the firefighters, trying to bite them. Chattanooga police officers arrived on the scene to assist, cornering the dog until McKamey Animal Center personnel arrived to subdue it and take it away.
Thursday morning a passerby called 911 Communications, saying flames were shooting through the windows and that someone might still be inside.
Four fire companies responded, with Engine 4 arriving on the scene first. Captain Carlos Hampton said smoke and flames were coming out of several windows in the one-story house. The doors were locked, so firefighters had to force their way inside. Captain Hampton said the firefighters searched the house three times, but did not find anyone inside. The firefighters then worked to extinguish the flames and got the fire under control in roughly 20 minutes. No one was injured.
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Senior Firefighter Eric Roddy (at top holding axe) and firefighter Bradley Britt (taking chainsaw from firefighter below) cut a hole in the roof to ventilate the attic and allow better access to extinguish hot spots
- Photo2 by Bruce Garner