Senior home mourns ‘heartbreaking’ loss of 72-year-old in deadly fire

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Five days after a deadly fire ripped through a Hickory Hill independent living facility, the community is just beginning to grasp the loss.

“It was heartbreaking because we lost the sweetest man ever,” said Vanecia Belser Kimbrow, the facility’s chief manager. “He was sweet. He was kind. He was gentle.

In a news conference on Tuesday, she asked for privacy for the family of the 72-year-old man who died.

“Out of 48 residents, we got 47 safely out,” she said. “But we could not get the one that was most in need out of the process.”

The manager said the fire started in the room of the man, who was blind. She said the sirens and loud voices overwhelmed him.

“He just froze,” she said. “He panicked, as would many elders and seniors who can’t see what’s going on.”

Belser Kimbrow told FOX13 that the cause of the fire is under investigation, but that there were no space heaters in the elderly man’s room.

Because of the deep freeze, pipes burst in the facility. She said the sprinkler system did not have water.

“The tragedy that’s here today is because our system failed,” she said. “The system failed.”

She pointed to a road block on Kirby Road that made it difficult for firefighters to access the deadly fire from Winchester Road.

“Whatever delays happened, it was not because our firefighters were not trying enough,” she said. “We’re not making excuses. We’re not blaming anyone. I want to be clear about that. But I want the community to know that there is no fault with how we operated.”

For now, her focus is finding a place for the 47 survivors to live. The manager said they are staying at a hotel while they figure out what’s next.

“I don’t know if I could if I can bring them home or not,” she said.