Family aided by Knoxville churches after Christmas Eve fire

Family aided by Knoxville churches after Christmas Eve fire

A burned Christmas tree rests in front of the Jenne family home in northwest Knoxville.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (Dec. 30, 2017) – The Jenne family had finished their Christmas Eve festivities and was watching “The Santa Clause 2” movie when 20-year-old Jacob smelled smoke.

“Dad, come here really quick! I smell something!”

Richard Jenne got up to find the kitchen full of smoke, followed by a basement and garage full of smoke. He turned on the garden hose to try to fight the flames leaping from the back of the house. He dropped the hose and ran when the heat began to “curdle the hairs on the back of my fingers.”

For the next hour, Richard Jenne, his mother Francine Jenne, and his son Jacob Jenne watched from the road as firefighters battled the blaze that ultimately destroyed their home.

“All of the contents of the house are a total loss,” Richard says. His mother Francine had lived in the house for 25 years.

Despite their Christmas Eve tragedy, the Jenne family says they are amazed by the way neighbors and two United Methodist congregations have reached out to help.

“Prayers, monetary donations, clothing ... We have been blessed,” says Francine Jenne. “One church member called me on Tuesday and immediately put money in my account.”

For 10 years, Francine has served on staff at Church Street United Methodist as bookkeeper. For 30 years, she’s been a member at Norwood United Methodist Church.

An online fundraising page set up by a Church Street member has raised more than $1,500.

“I really didn’t know that people knew me. I just stay in my office,” Francine Jenne said, referring to her work at Church Street. “I’m not visible because my job doesn’t call for me to be. But it’s unreal what they’ve done for me.”

Norwood UMC is collecting gift cards and financial donations to help the family, said the Rev. Joe Phillips. (Send gift cards or checks to Norwood UMC, 2110 Merchants Drive, Knoxville, TN 37912. Write “Jenne Family” on the memo line.)

Phillips said he “didn't know the magnitude of the fire” when he first learned about it from a text message. He realized the danger his parishioners had escaped when he saw the Jenne home. “The first thought was gratitude that the family was safe. I actually believe it is a Christmas miracle.”

Authorities haven't yet determined the fire's cause but suspect it was an electrical malfunction, Richard Jenne said.

During worship on Sunday, Dec. 31, the Norwood congregation planned to pray for the Jenne family “and just love on them, and then they will let us know what they need,” Phillips said. “I do know that we will do fundraisers as the needs come up.”

Richard Jenne was treated in the ER for smoke inhalation but was released in the early morning hours on Christmas Day.

He said that neighbors “poured out of their houses” to help when they became aware of the fire, “offering coats, jackets, chairs to sit on, coffee, water … It was a heartfelt thing, a good feeling that you want to have about the neighborhood you live in.”

The family has been provided accommodations in an extended-stay hotel and a rental car. “We’ve got a place to stay, clothes to wear, and people are bringing food. For right now, we’re ok,” Richard Jenne said. “Prayer really works, and it’s been proven this week.”

Contact Annette Spence at


Photos below: (1) Richard Jenne, sitting on Rev. Joe Phillips' lap, plays Santa at a Norwood UMC party. (2) Jacob Jenne, far left, portrays a Wise Man in Norwood's live nativity scene on Dec. 22. (3) Francine Jenne in her Church Street staff photo.




Annette Spence

Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newsletter.