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Dozens of people left homeless after large fire destroys 24 apartments in Lakeland

Arbor Glen apartment fire
Posted at 3:51 AM, Mar 12, 2019

LAKELAND, Fla. — Victims arrived back at the Arbor Glen Community Tuesday after a fire ripped through the complex Monday night.

New video shows damage from above to be extensive.

A large, gaping and black hole is seen from the top where Lt. Heath Seeber took the video from a latter truck.

"The only thing I know is we lost everything, we can’t get in," one nameless victim told ABC Action News they were able to get out with their dog, but everything else was lost.

"Right now we are in a hotel and the insurance is paying for that," the victim added.

Inside the building tells a different story according to investigators.

While half of the units are completely destroyed, only water damaged the other half of the apartments.

ABC Action News learned many victims will be able to salvage their belongings according to fire investigators.

Lakeland Fire also said the management company may be able to recover the building if it's cost effective.

For Joree Walton, that's good news as her son left many important items behind as officers were banging on residents' doors telling them to leave.

"He left his ID and drivers license and everything in there he thought his wallet was in there," Walton said.

Four cats were reunited with their owners, and all but one of the pets in the building have been accounted for.

The north side of the building is not structurally sound and will not allow for re-entry by residents looking to recover items, according to fire officials.

Lakeland Fire Department determined the cause of the fire to be a misplaced screw or nail, through electrical wiring which degraded over time through repeated exposure to electricity, rendering the surrounding building materials susceptible to ignition. The fire began in the ceiling, above the breezeway between third story apartments located on the Southside of the building.

ORIGINAL STORY: Dozens of people are looking for a new place to live after a large fire destroyed their homes on Monday night.

The Lakeland Fire Department received a call around 5:30 p.m. that smoke was coming from an apartment building in the Arbor Glen community at 4950 Deep Forest Ct.

When fire crews arrived on scene they began evacuating all the residents of the building. Firefighters used force to get into some apartments to make sure no one was inside.

After they evacuated everyone, crews begans searching for the source of the smoke. They discovered flames burning in the attic on the building's south side.

Officials say the fire quickly spread through the entire attic. At that point firefighters took a defensive position to control the flames.

It took until 8:45 p.m. for crews to contain the fire. They then re-entered the building to eliminate hotspots and search for pets.

One woman who lost everything is thankful her sleeping husband woke up in time to escape the burning building.

“My daughter when they let her run back in to get the cat, she did grab a box of pictures and some things that were very personal that she had which is awesome," said Jamie Jesmain. "But you know, furniture and all that, everything in there can be replaced.”

Authorities say everyone living in the destroyed building will need to find a new place to live. The American Red Cross is currently helping affected residents. Some neighbors are already organizing a donation drive for those impacted by the fire.

No one was hurt in the fire but the officials say they do not yet know if every pet made it safely out of the building.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.