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Tenn. woman escapes being locked inside burning house after hamburger argument

Knox County deputies said Sidney David Whitsell set the fire when he learned there wasn’t a hamburger for him


Rural Metro Fire, Knox County/Facebook

By Simone Jasper
The Charlotte Observer

KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. — A trapped woman raced to escape a locked basement after a man set fire to a Tennessee home, officials told news outlets.

The woman forced open a set of doors to make it to safety. After her harrowing escape, she reported that she saw the suspect “standing in the backyard by the pool, watching the house burn,” the Knox County Sheriff’s Office told WOKI and WATE.

Now, the man accused of intentionally setting the destructive fire is charged with arson. News outlets didn’t list attorney information for the man, identified as 40-year-old Sidney David Whitsell.

The Rural Metro fire department in a Facebook post said it was called to the burning home early Monday, July 31. Photos from the blaze — which was reported in the Heiskell area, roughly 15 miles northwest of downtown Knoxville — show flames leaping from the house.

“Typically, houses just don’t catch fire and burn and get fully engulfed with flames that quick,” fire department spokesperson Jeff Bagwell told WBIR. “They burn over time until they vent themselves and then the fire spreads a whole lot faster. It usually indicates that fire has been burning a while for it to get to that point, or it had some help along the way.”

Deputies said Whitsell started the fire after he and the woman got into an argument over food. He became angry after the woman made a hamburger and didn’t have any left for him, WATE reported.

After going to the basement to get some space, the woman reportedly noticed that smoke filled the air. Though Whitsell had locked the main door to the basement, the woman managed to break out of a set of broken doors, according to a report obtained by WATE.

Whitsell now faces additional charges of aggravated kidnapping and aggravated arson, online records show.

The Knox County Sheriff’s Office didn’t respond to McClatchy News’ requests for additional information on Aug. 1.

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