Blaze leaves four families homeless

Residents escape fire

SYLVIA LIM

Herald Staff Writer


MANATEE - Flushed and barefoot, Brandy Johnson rubbed beads of sweat off her face while staring at the smoldering apartment building where she had been just moments earlier Friday evening.

Alerted by a loud banging on the door that there was a fire, Johnson, 21, had bolted out of the eight-unit apartment complex at Avalon Square, 3506 Tamiami Trail N. with her roommate, two children and fiance.

The sudden blaze emptied the entire complex, home to 18 people, about 6:35 p.m. As people were busy moving their vehicles away from the burning complex, the windows of Apartment 232, just across the hall from Johnson's, began breaking. A neighbor saw the door to that apartment open and flames snake out.

The fire apparently started in the kitchen of Apartment 232, said Cedar Hammock Fire Rescue spokesman David Quarderer. The tenant was boiling eggs in a pot when she left it on the stove and left for work Friday morning.

By the time the fire was put out and everything was under control, about 7:07 p.m., four families were displaced and a dog named Diamonds was killed, fire officials said. The dog belonged to 232's tenant.

Thick smoke billowed from all crevices of the complex when the fire trucks arrived at 6:38 p.m. As the first Cedar Hammock firefighter ventured into 232, parts of the ceiling fell on him.

Twenty-year fire veteran Randy Gilmore was taken to the hospital for evaluation, Quarderer said. Gilmore was released Friday evening and was said to be doing fine.

While trying to contain the blaze, other firefighters began chopping away at the roof to make vent holes for the smoke and heat.

"We had to keep the smoke moving upwards," said Cedar Hammock Capt. Al Lobeto.

By that time, a crowd had gathered around the complex. Several residents who lived in the complex stood behind yellow police tape, looking on with worried expressions. Most were barefoot.

Johnson had been playing a card game with her daughter and roommate Jackie Moore when the apartments' maintenance man banged on her door. Her fiance, Don Edmunds, was sleeping in one of the bedrooms with her 9-month-old child.

"I didn't know a thing until the maintenance guy banged on our door," she said.

The family living below 232 was just about to have dinner when they heard frantic banging on their door.

J.R. Jenkins and his mother, brother, girlfriend and two other friends were also unaware of the fire. His brother was frying crab cakes on the stove, and Jenkins thought his brother had burned the food.

"I didn't feel anything," said Jenkins, 18.

Apartment 232's tenant, a woman, knocked on their door, said Jenkins' girlfriend, Abbey Thornsbury, 15. The woman had just came home from work.

The woman's apartment was destroyed, while others were damaged by the flames, smoke, heat and water, said Lobeto. Fire officials barred residents from going to their homes Friday night.

"We need to make sure that the power is secured accordingly," Lobeto said. "We are trying to make arrangements for all the occupants to get assistance from Red Cross."

A Red Cross truck, bearing several volunteers and coolers of water and Gatorade, pulled up about an hour later.

Johnson and Jenkins said they would be staying with relatives.

Two other trucks from Southern Manatee Fire Rescue and the Bradenton Fire Department assisted Cedar Hammock in fighting the blaze, Lobeto said. Officials had not estimated the value of the damage to the complex.

Sylvia Lim, criminal justice reporter, can be reached at 745-7041 or slim@HeraldToday.com.