JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – After a raging fire left three children and a mother hospitalized and 10 families homeless, the News4Jax I-TEAM has learned a gas service company had been called multiple times to the Calloway Cove Apartments to investigate gas lines.
The state fire marshal is still investigating the cause of the blaze. Neighbors said the fire started with a loud boom.
"I just heard a loud explosion. I thought a bomb or something went off," said James Kelly, a resident.
The gas service company for the apartment complex, TECO Energy, said it has cut the gas off at the building affected by the fire, which was requested by the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department. The I-TEAM learned TECO Energy was "called to investigate the smell of gas at Calloway Cove Apartments once this year and once last year."
The I-TEAM asked management at the apartment complex about gas leak concerns. A spokesperson said, "We cannot provide any information beyond the statement that I sent you because this is an ongoing investigation."
In 2016, under different ownership, the complex failed HUD inspection after inspectors found more than 20 safety deficiencies on the property, including a broken gas stove pilot light and an inoperable smoke detector. Reports show the complex failed its fire inspection twice in 2018 before passing in October.
The city of Jacksonville released the following statement about the fire investigation:
“Tragic events the other evening led to fire inspectors, building inspectors and safety monitors taking a close look at the remaining units of the facility. In some cases, the inspectors indicated additional safety measures needed to be in place. The ownership group is working to get these rectified as quickly as possible. In the meantime, families that are displaced as a result are being temporarily housed at the expense of the property owner and we are working together to get them back home as safely and as soon as possible. The Red Cross, non-profits, city, state and federal offices are all working together at this time. We won’t comment on the possible cause or implication because of the ongoing investigation by the state fire marshal.”
District 10 City Councilwoman Brenda Priestly Jackson said her district is waiting to learn more about the cause of the fire. Meanwhile, she wants to help the families affected by the blaze.
"Pretty jarring to see the level of damage," Priestly Jackson said. "With that recent history and the change of ownership, we have to make certain whatever was supposed to be addressed, whatever has not been addressed, is addressed."
Priestly Jackson is asking people affected by the fire to contact her office. A spokesperson for the city said code enforcement personnel are inspecting to ensure the apartments are up to code.
On Thursday, La'Tasha Lunford posted to Facebook about a clothing donation drive for the family who was burned in the fire.