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Residents of Retirement Home Trying to Cope in Blaze’s Aftermath

December 27, 1989

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (AP) _ For six months, Brian L. Cozad had lived with and cared for his grandmother. On Christmas Eve, he died with her in a high-rise retirement home fire that killed 16 and injured dozens.

Cozad, 29, who returned to Johnson City last summer after working in Florida, found his grandmother in failing health and moved in with her at the John Sevier Retirement Center.

His 79-year-old grandmother, Carman L. Baughan, a retired bookkeeper, suffered from cancer and emphysema.

″She was bedfast and on oxygen,″ said Baughnie Brumit, the woman’s daughter and Cozad’s mother. ″For the past six weeks, he had more or less waited on her hand and foot.″

″They were very close and she was getting sicker,″ Mrs. Brumit said. ″He was very caring where she was concerned.″

While authorities continued investigating the cause of the fire in the 11- story center, building residents tried to deal with their feelings about the Christmas Eve disaster.

″It breaks me up to talk about it,″ said Herman Rankin, who had lived in the center for six months.

Mental health professionals have volunteered their time to counsel survivors, said Jane Harris, a disaster worker with the Red Cross.

Red Cross officials said some people have been so upset, they have not been eating.

″I’ve been torn up about it,″ said Duaine Hampton, an 11-year resident.

Rankin and Hampton were among 23 people from the center staying at a hotel. Forty-five others are staying with relatives, Red Cross officials said Tuesday.

Paul Souder, an assistant to Fire Chief Doug Buckles, said investigators do not suspect arson.

The fire was the second fatal fire in the center in two months. In October, a 76-year-old resident died of smoke inhalation, but all residents were evacuated.

Firefighters quickly extinguished the October blaze through an internal piping system that brought water through the building.

By the time firefighters arrived Sunday night, the fire was out of control.

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