Storm-sparked fire guts apartments in Seminole
By Robert Perez | Sentinel Staff Writer
Posted July 31, 2003
A powerful summer storm lashed Central Florida on Wednesday, sparking a fire in Forest City that gutted two apartments and forced renters out of 17 others.
The storm, which brought severe lightning and golf-ball-size hail to parts of Seminole County, also blew down power lines and trees in Orange and Seminole counties, caused widespread power outages and dumped up to 3 inches of rain in parts of Osceola County.
No injuries were reported from the storm or fire.
Lightning likely caused the three-alarm fire at Post Lake Apartments on State Road 436 in south Seminole County, said Alan Harris, a spokesman for thecounty's Public Safety Department.
The fire was reported about 3:45 p.m. as the worst of the storm was bearing down on west Seminole. Residents said they heard a loud crash, then noticed a small fire on one building's roof.
Eric Diaz, 40, said the fire started small, but by the time firefighters were on the scene, the flames had erupted through the roof.
Others said the lightning bolt was startling.
"I heard the blast," said Charley Sanchez, 67, who has lived in the complex for four years. "It sounded like a bomb."
All of the damage was confined to one 20-unit building at the sprawling complex. Many residents who lived in the burned building were shocked by the extent of the damage.
Skip and Kelley Clayton stood under some pine trees near the smoking building. The Claytons' third-floor apartment is next to one of the burned units. They have lived there for a year and didn't know the extent of the damage to their belongings.
The couple said they have renters insurance but are fearful what they will find. They hoped the damage, if any, would be confined to their bedroom.
"We're planning for the worst, hoping for the best," said Skip Clayton, 25.
Eight occupied apartments suffered fire, water or smoke damage, Harris said. Eleven others were left without electricity, he said.
Many residents returning home had to fight traffic that quickly backed up at the entrance to the complex.
"I got here at 4:15, and all I saw was smoke, and I thought it was my apartment," Katrise Grant said. "I can't believe this can happen."
Grant's daughter, Erika, 13, said she was scared and shaking as they drove into the complex.
"It's been like this every day, with thunder and lightning," Erika said.
The apartment complex has had at least five fires since it opened in 1987. Three of those -- all during the summer -- were thought to be sparked by lightning strikes.
Afternoon thunderstorms are typical for this time of year, weather forecasters said.
"It was a little bit stronger than average, but it wasn't uncommon for this time of year," said Matt Bragaw, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Melbourne.
Packing winds of up to 55 mph, the storm moved east along the Orange and Seminole county line. By 7 p.m., it had pushed off the east coast.
In Orange County, the worst damage was near downtown Orlando and in the College Park neighborhood, where fallen tree limbs blocked residential streets.
At 724 Wessex Place, a tree fell and poked a hole through the roof of a garage, Orlando fire officials said. No one was injured.
In Seminole County, a tree came crashing through the roof of Margaret Stockhammer's Casselberry home.
"I heard this great big clap of thunder, then all of the sudden the house shook," said Stockhammer, 86.
An oak tree in her back yard had split, sending one big branch into her roof and another into her neighbor's roof. No one was hurt.
Mike Turner of the National Weather Service in Melbourne reported trees down in Casselberry and Winter Springs. Parts of Sanford were pelted by golf-ball-size hail during a downpour that brought 2Ĺ inches of rain, he said.
Tree limbs falling on power lines knocked out power to about 450 customers of the Orlando Utilities Commission near downtown Orlando and in the College Park and Parramore neighborhoods. Most residents' power was restored by 6 p.m., OUC said.
About 15,000 customers of Progress Energy Florida in Winter Park, Apopka, Winter Springs, Casselberry, Longwood and southwest Orange County were without power for several hours Wednesday, utility officials said.
"The northern Orange and southern Seminole areas were very strongly hit," Progress Energy spokesman Craig Eicher said.
Most of Central Florida received one-half to 1 inch of rain, Bragaw said.
The area of Osceola County southeast of Holopaw received an estimated 2Ĺ to 3 inches.
Heavy rain also was reported between Christmas and Titusville and along the Brevard County coast just south of the Volusia County line, he said.
Forecasters said Central Florida can expect similar strong afternoon thunderstorms today.
Amy C. Rippel, Martin E. Comas, Joseph Rassel, Rene Stutzman and Tammie Wersinger of the Sentinel staff contributed to this report. Robert Perez can be reached at 407-322-1298 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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07-31-2003, 12:03 PM #1
Seminole County Fla--Fire Sparked by Lightning Guts Apartments
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