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'We'll get through it' | Lakeland family recovers few items before fire destroys apartment

Fire destroyed 24 units in March
Posted at 11:54 PM, May 06, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-06 23:54:47-04

LAKELAND, Fla. -- A Lakeland family plans to take legal action after they were unable to collect their belongings after a fire at their apartment complex.

The fire happened on March 11 at the Arbor Glen apartment building located on Deep Forest Court in Lakeland.

The fire destroyed about 24 units. Demolition on the building started on Monday.

"My daughter was able to get nothing. We watched her room be destroyed because we were afraid of being kicked off the property," said Jamie Jesmain.

Jamie Jesmain said she watched as crews demolished the building. She said a few construction workers were able to hand her a few items like a necklace her son bought her. Her daughter was unable to get any of her belongings including some dolls, a gift from her late uncle.

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"We'll get through it. We're a strong family. We have faith and God was good today. We did get a few things and to find something like this (necklace) and a couple pictures and stuff apparently that's what God wanted us to have and we got it," Jesmain said.

Jesmain said her family has been unable to retrieve any of their belongings after the fire. They wanted to get their possessions before crews knocked down the building.

"I just knew from that point that if we don’t take legal action or get help from some sort of authoritative figure like somebody that knows our rights we're going to be in trouble," she said.

The family said they had renter's insurance, but it will not cover the cost of all of their possessions.

The family's attorney, Charles Gallagher, said he plans to file a lawsuit against the management company to recoup some of the losses.

"We’ve lived in a camper. We’ve lived in a camper for two months. We happened to already own that and it was in storage so we were very, very lucky that we were able to move in there. It's cramped, but it works for us," Jesmain said.

We reached out to Greystar Management Services. A spokesperson sent us the following statement:

“We recognize this has been a tragic and devastating time for everyone involved. The Fire Marshal and several structural engineers determined that portions of the building were unsafe and prohibited access, as the structural integrity of these sections is severely compromised. The potential for injury or loss of life is too great to allow anyone to access these sections of the building.”

The Lakeland Fire Department determined the fire to be accidental in nature; caused by a misplaced screw or nail, through electrical wiring which degraded surrounding material over time through repeated exposure to electricity.

A fire department spokesperson added, "this process happens slowly over time, where the surrounding material the nail/screw was in slowly turned the wood into a charcoal-like substance, making it more likely to combust at a lower temperature over time."