Red Bank woman sets own apartment on fire - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Red Bank woman sets own apartment on fire; neighbors now homeless

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RED BANK, TN (WRCB) - Red Bank police are investigating an arson that's left several people homeless. It happened just after midnight Thursday at an apartment complex on Dayton Boulevard. Of the eight units, four were occupied.

It was a dramatic scene as crews pulled the residents from the fire and arrested one who admitted to intentionally starting the blaze in her bedroom.

"I could see flames coming out of apartment two and immediately called 911," witness Harietta French says.

Harietta French awoke to flames taking over the apartment building next door just after midnight. Her friends were asleep on the second floor.

"I screamed so loud anybody could hear me and they cracked the window and I said to them, I called his name, and get out quick, the building is on fire," French says.

Her friend, Salvador Ramirez, tried to escape with his family of four, but flames blocked the only stairway.

"We tried to come to this here, but we couldn't do it," fire victim, Salvador Ramirez says.

"I wasn't sure if they was alive or not," French says.

"When the fire department arrived, the resident at the second level were trapped," Red Bank Assistant Fire Chief Jerry Carter says.

Fire crews rescued them by ladder. All eight made it out uninjured.

"Finally I saw them standing down there, him, his wife and his two kids," French says.

"I appreciate this lady a lot. I love her," Ramirez says.

He's thankful his neighbor's screams woke them.  

"If we did not hear her, maybe we'd die," Ramirez says.

He did not have renter's insurance, though, and not much is salvageable.

He's lived here alone for 16 years, saving up to bring his family from Mexico. One month after paying for their citizenship and moving in, they've lost everything.

"Now I have to spend money, I don't know how, for getting a new apartment and all this stuff," Ramirez says.

But, he says, the most troubling part is that his neighbor, Rebecca Pendergrass, admitted to setting the fire.

"The first cop car that pulled up, she said, take me to jail," witness Tyler Ford says.

Red Bank police charged her with aggravated arson. When investigators asked why, she said "because I wanted to."

"It's horrible," French says.

"I have to be strong in front of my family, but sometimes I can't," Ramirez says.

Pendergrass is being held on a $250,000 bond. Fire investigators say they're still working to determine how she set the fire.

The Red Cross is assisting the fire victims by paying for their motel stays.

Red Bank police say Pendergrass has a small brushes with the law in the past, but no serious criminal history.

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