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January 14, 2011

Man who doesn't dial 911 loses home to inferno

NORTH KNOXVILLE--Stephen Forthman shoots first and asks questions later. He wears a shirt proudly displaying the words "I don't dial 911" next to a picture of a hand gripping a six-shooter. When it comes time to contact local emergency services for assistance, he'd rather just shoot at the problem until it goes away--even when the problem is his own home being on fire.

No injuries were reported in a large structural house fire in North Knoxville at Forthman's residence on Whittle Springs Road yesterday. Knoxville firefighters were alerted by neighbors at 2:15 p.m. of smoke at the residence, according to Knoxville Fire Department spokesman Capt. John Nickleton. The Knoxville Fire Department responded to an initial report of heavy smoke coming from the garage, and of a large bearded man in the front yard screaming and shooting into the house.

"At first I didn't even notice the fire," said neighbor Tricia Perkinson. "I heard gunshots coming from across the street. When I looked outside, I saw Steve in his front yard waving a gun at the house. He was yelling obscenities and just shooting. He was saying, 'You better get out of here you bleeping bleep.' I thought he had lost his mind. Then I saw the smoke."

"When we arrived at the scene, the house was completely engulfed in flames," said firefighter Daniel Cummings. "Outside, the homeowner was shouting and firing a semi-automatic pistol into the fire."

Firefighters were able to contain the flames to the Forthman residence, but the massive fire gutted the two-story home. Police were called to restrain Forthman, who had to be disarmed and handcuffed before he would stop shooting at the blaze.

Fire investigators are expected to return to the scene today to determine the fire's cause.

This isn't the first time Forthman has refused to dial 911. In 2004, Forthman tried to shoot himself in the torso after having chest pains. His brother-in-law wrestled a rifle away from Forthman and called an ambulance.

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