Fire destroys two apartments in River Reach development

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

By BRIGID O'MALLEY, bmomalley@naplesnews.com



He said he took pail after pail of water and threw it at the fire.

"It spread faster than I could throw it," said John D. Gibbs as he recovered Tuesday afternoon from being in the thick of the smoke and fire at his apartment in the River Reach apartment complex in East Naples. "I tried and tried."

No one was hurt when flames ripped through two apartments at 1961 River Reach Drive, apartments No. 207 and No. 208, just before 4 p.m.

Both of the apartments, one upstairs and one downstairs, were destroyed by the fire and several of the surrounding apartments were expected to have some smoke damage, firefighters said. The cause is still under investigation.

More than 40 firefighters from East Naples, Golden Gate, North Naples and Marco Island were called to the fire because of reports that there were explosions at the apartment building.

Fire investigators are trying to determine if the explosions were from propane tanks on a barbecue grill and whether the grill was involved in starting the fire.

Dozens of people watched as firefighters quickly brought the fire under control and searched the building for anyone at home at the time. The floor of the second-story apartment collapsed.

"It was going pretty good when we got here," said East Naples Fire Chief Bob Schank.

Gibbs, who had a cut on his chin, said he was outside changing the spark plugs on his pickup when he noticed the flames in his downstairs apartment. He ran inside and threw water at the flames, which he said were coming from the upholstery on the furniture. He said he hadn't been cooking inside his apartment and he didn't know how the fire started.

"I kept throwing water over the breakfast bar," he said, describing his fire fight. "It was black as hell in there."

Jesika Rupena, 13, who lives in the same building, said she came home from school and saw flames coming from the roof.

"It nearly hit the roof," she said, adding that she ran to the office to get help.

She said some other residents ran and broke some of the fire extinguisher boxes, trying to extinguish the fire.

Ximena Correa, 12, said she could smell the smoke from her school bus.

"There was a lot of smoke everywhere," she said.

The American Red Cross had arrived Tuesday evening with food and water.