Fires damage beach motels; all flee safely
BY DIANA MOSKOVITZ
Herald Writer


Residents of two Hollywood motels just blocks from each other shared a frightening experience Wednesday after fires hit their buildings seven hours apart.

Both fires were electrical. Both began in empty units. Both were spotted by one person who warned others inside.

And in both cases, residents or neighbors helped fight the blaze until firetrucks arrived.

No one was hurt.

While the timing had investigators checking for arson, they concluded it was ''pure coincidence,'' Hollywood police spokesman Carlos Negron said.

Several hours after the 3:30 a.m. fire at the Parkside Motel on the Water, 4510 N. Ocean Dr., owners John and Barbara Muñoz lounged at the outdoor bar attached to the motel, one of the few portions of the property left unscathed.

They said they were not sure how they would pay for the repairs.

Owners of the place for a year, they learned just last week that they had no fire insurance, John Muñoz said.

He had been shopping around for estimates.

John Muñoz said investigators told him an electrical line without a circuit breaker caused the blaze.

''Someone doesn't buy a breaker for $5 or $10, and it just goes up,'' John Muñoz said.

The one good result was losing their old carpeting, Barbara Muñoz said.

''We were going to put in tile anyway,'' she said.

No one knew about the fire until resident Michael Smith began warning neighbors after waking up and seeing the orange glow of flames from Unit 9 down the hall, Smith said. ''It was just an instinct, I guess,'' he said.

A woman had lived in there two weeks ago, but switched to Unit 6 to face the Intracoastal Waterway, John Muñoz said.

Smith woke up the Muñozes, who called 911. John Muñoz and Smith then attacked the fire with two fire extinguisher while Barbara Muñoz used a water hose until firefighters arrived.

Most of the fire damage was in two vacant units, 9 and 10. But an orange sign posted Wednesday afternoon deemed the entire property ''uninhabitable.'' The Broward County chapter of the American Red Cross was providing temporary shelter.

Seven hours later, residents, neighbors and pets from the White Sands Inn, 5501 N. Ocean Dr., lined the street as firefighters extinguished their blaze.

''The flames were coming seven feet out the window,'' front desk clerk Brian Barshinger said. ``Black smoke was everywhere and rolling into the office.''

No one knew about the fire until an Exxon worker across the street spotted the fire about 10:45 a.m. and ran inside to tell Barshinger.

Barshinger called police.

Another man, David Morales, spotted the flames from his apartment across the street. He grabbed a hose from a cement truck and fought the fire until trucks arrived.

''The fire went higher than the building,'' Morales said.

Because the motel was under renovation, only six units were occupied, and most of the residents were away at work, Barshinger said. The couple living inside the engulfed apartment were away on vacation, he said.

When they return, the couple will discover their bedroom ''completely gone,'' Barshinger said.