JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A family member of victims burned in a fire at a Moncrief subsidized apartment complex said Thursday his loved ones are still fighting for their lives.
The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office said at least seven people were sent to area hospitals on the night of July 23 after the fire burned several units at Calloway Cove.
The most critically injured was Nicole Ethridge and her three children.
Her husband, Keyon Ethridge, is splitting his time between the burn center at UF Health where his wife is being treated and a children's hospital in Boston where his children are receiving treatment.
“It’s so hard. So stressful. Barely sleeping. Barely eating,” Keyon Ethridge said.
Keyon Ethridge's sister told News4Jax the man's wife, Nicole Ethridge, was originally given a 15% chance of survival and additional surgeries on Tuesday and Thursday.
“People are telling me to stay strong, but it’s easier said than done,” Keyon Ethridge said.
Keyon Ethridge's sister, LaTesha Ethridge, who spoke for her brother as he was choking back tears, said his wife went back in the apartment twice to rescue their children from the burning apartment complex.
“She’s fighting. She’s [the] most critical. The most,” said LaTesha Ethridge. “Burns are 60 to 95%. They have disfigurement, amputation … this could have been prevented.”
Keyon Ethridge said his family had previously reported smelling gas in their apartment and said the fire was caused by gas explosions. Gas lines were turned off at the complex following the fire.
Multiple sources have told News4Jax that a stove in one of the units "blew up.” The state fire marshal has not released the exact cause of the fire. On Thursday, a spokesperson for the State Fire Marshal's Office told News4Jax the investigation into the fire is ongoing.
A spokesman for TECO Energy told the News4Jax 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 spokesperson said, TECO Energy "received a number of calls reporting the smell of gas in nearby buildings" within the same complex.
The I-TEAM learned many families were told to evacuate their apartments and were then bussed to a hotel near the airport. Families said they were told to evacuate because of a gas leak following the fire.
According to the Jacksonville fire marshal, the complex failed a city fire inspection following the fire with eight violations, including failure to maintain working fire alarms and expired fire extinguishers in occupied units.
“I don’t want this to ever happen to any other family. I want other complexes to be aware of what’s going on,” Keyon Ethridge said.
More than ever the father and husband is trying to be strong for his family. The family says they need monetary help and created a donation account online.