Families left homeless after large fire at Hillsborough County apartment complex

Posted at 9:32 PM, Jun 09, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-11 17:39:20-04

TAMPA, Fla. -- Several families were left with no place to sleep following a large apartment fire that sent one man to the hospital.

Thick plumes of smoke spread across the Grand Reserve located at West Humphrey Street in Hillsborough County. More than 60 firefighters worked hard to stop the flames.

On Monday, some of those eight families returned to the complex where they found their units were blocked off with a fence.

"Horrible, horrible. It's very horrible that this whole building is gone," said David Hicks.

ABC Action News spoke with the family of the man injured in the fire, and he's expected to be released from Tampa General Hospital on Monday afternoon after being treated for burns to his body.

Hicks appears calm staring at the charred building but on the inside, it's a much different story. That's because this was his home.

He heard loud noises upstairs where the fire appears to have started, just before 3 p.m. Then he heard people screaming and running.

"And within no time it took the whole top building," he said. "The whole apartment is gone. We're talking less than 20 to 30 minutes all of it is gone now."

The moment he realized this was a potentially deadly situation he grabbed his kids and left.

Fire crews faced challenges to get water on the burning building. They were forced to push down a fence and cross a street to access the closest hydrant. Others on the property just too far away.

"This was quick. Destructive. Very fast," said Neighbor Liuver Perez.

He and his friend used fire extinguishers and threw buckets of water at the fire. But after a few minutes, his friend turned to him and said what they both already knew.

"Get out, get out! There's no way to stop this!'" described Perez. "And then we ran away."

Perez and other neighbors went door-to-door helping families evacuate. Ultimately no one died but neighbors say paramedics took one man to the hospital with a badly burned shoulder.

"We can replace material things but we can't replace a family member or a loved one so the main thing is that everyone go out safe," said Hicks.

Fire crews continue to investigate the cause of the fire.

Monica Merle and her two kids are staying in a hotel put up by the Red Cross until they can stay with a friend until they figure out what they can do next. 

Merle tells us she was at work when the fire happened and came back to the rental unit destroyed by smoke, and water from putting out the fire in the unit above her. 

As of now, her family and kids only have the clothes that they were wearing from the fire.