JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – TECO Energy received a number of calls reporting the smell of gas at a Northside apartment complex that burned last week, the energy company told the News4Jax I-TEAM on Monday.
The fire at Calloway Cove displaced 10 families and sent a woman and her three children to the UF Health Shands Burn Center in Gainesville in critical condition. Multiple sources told the I-TEAM that the fire happened after a gas stove exploded in an apartment unit.
A spokesman for TECO Energy told the I-TEAM: “Before the fire, the only time we were called to investigate the smell of gas this year was in April.
In the days after the fire, the spokesman said, TECO Energy "received a number of calls reporting the smell of gas in nearby buildings" within the same complex.
"We investigated all of them, and any leaks were reported to the facility’s management team," the spokesman said.
The I-TEAM reported Thursday that TECO Energy cut off the gas at the building affected by the fire. The company had been called multiple times to the complex to investigate gas lines.
According to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, 28 families were evacuated, along with the 10 whose homes were burned. The 28 were evacuated out of caution after safety violations were found by code enforcement and the city fire marshal.
According to the Jacksonville fire marshal, the complex failed a city fire inspection Friday with eight violations, including failure to maintain working fire alarms and expired fire extinguishers in occupied units.
As of Monday, according to the owners, all but four households have returned to Calloway Cove or have been relocated. The owners also said they have begun the process of fixing issues that were identified.
"It’s almost like déjà vu from when I first came into office," said City Councilman Garrett Dennis, who represents District 9.
Dennis remembers Calloway Cove when the complex, then named Washington Heights under different management, received a barely passing HUD score in 2015 after inspectors found collapsed and fallen ceilings, as wells as broken fire alarms and a broken pilot light on a stove.
"The new owner, which I totally support, they inherited, quite frankly, a mess," Dennis said. "They (are) trying to do renovations while those people are there, and as a result, we see what happened last week."
He, along with community members, believe changes need to be made without people living there.
"I think they just need to close them down and knock them down and rebuild because, you know, it's just a sad situation," said Sharon Kirkland-Vaughn, who was donating clothes and other items to families affected by the Calloway Cove fire. "Knowing these families lost everything and these people got burnt out, it’s just so sad."
Though the gas service came out to investigate gas leaks and reported any they found to the management company, the management company and the city have not confirmed that information. It's also unclear which issues highlighted by TECO Energy and the city fire marshal were resolved.