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Fire that destroyed Knoxville Planned Parenthood building was set, officials say

The battle over Roe v. Wade
The battle over Roe v. Wade 09:14

Knoxville, Tennessee — A fire that destroyed a Tennessee Planned Parenthood clinic was set, fire officials said Thursday.

Officials are looking for a suspect and asked the public to provide tips to the Knoxville Fire Department, CBS Knoxville affiliate WVLT-TV reports.

The building erupted in flames early last Friday, with fire shooting through the roof.

"The fact that the fire had already breached the roof indicated that the fire had been burning for some time prior to the department's arrival," Assistant Chief Mark Wilbanks told reporters, WVLT says. "It took the Knoxville Fire Department almost four hours to fully extinguish the blaze. "

The fire was the second time the clinic was targeted last year. Someone fired a shotgun at the clinic's doors in January, shattering glass and leaving holes in the reception area. The clinic was closed and unoccupied at the time of the shooting.

Officials don't believe the two incidents were related, WVLT-TV says.

Flames are seen in Planned Parenthood building in Knoxville, Tennessee on December 31, 2021. Officials say the blaze was a case of arson. The building was being renovated.  WVLT-TV

The building was also unoccupied during the fire and had been closed for several weeks for a $2.2 million renovation. It's the organization's only branch in East Tennessee.

"We are heartbroken at the loss of our beautiful new building, but I'm here to tell you that we are committed to Knoxville and East Tennessee, and we are determined to rebuild," Ashley Coffield, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi, said Thursday at a news conference at the clinic's site.

"Knoxville wants Planned Parenthood, our patients need us to be here and we are going to be here."

She said Planned Parenthood is committed to rebuilding the nearly 10,000 square-foot structure.

The temporary closure sent dozens of patients to the Knox County Health Department and the Knoxville Center for Reproductive Health, WVLT notes.

Corinne Robetti, the Knoxville Center's co-director, told WVLT News they're seeing an uncommon waitlist of about a dozen patients.

"We have been inundated with calls," Robetti said.

Robetti said the clinic saw more police presence and patrols in the area following the fire at Planned Parenthood.

"Planned Parenthood, as we all are, has been bombarded by some really difficult protesters that has definitely increased since last Jan. 6," said Robetti. "An officer came in just to check on us the other day. I couldn't have been happier to see that."

There's now a $10,000 reward for anyone who has information that leads to an arrest.

The fire came as the U.S. Supreme Court considers a case that could severely curtail abortion rights  that have stood for half a century.

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