Jacksonville fire survivor: Cereal saved my life

Firefighters rescue precious photos, memorabilia from mantle

By Scott Johnson - Reporter, Crystal Chen - Assignment editor/reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A fire at the Club at Town Center apartments on St. Johns Bluff Road just after midnight Thursday badly burned one unit.

Timothy Zapata said God was looking out for him when his two bedroom townhouse went up in flames.

"I saw flames, smoke; I couldn't breathe. I had to slide down the stairs, started to lose consciousness....and I didn’t know where the flames was coming from," Zapata said.

Jacksonville firefighters and multiple ladder trucks were needed to get the fire under control. Crews worked around what appeared to be the chimney, putting the fire out up top as well as parts of the chimney, which are charred.

There is no word yet on what exactly started the fire but the fire marshal told Zapata it looked liek a bad flue in the fireplace was the culprit.

Zapata said he was using his fireplace and had two smoldering logs left while eating breakfast.

"A bowl of cereal saved my life... I mean, had I gone to bed, I would have probably died from smoke inhalation. I was finishing my bowl of cereal, and I know it sounds crazy. I didn’t know what was going on," said Zapata.

He said he went upstairs in the townhouse to investigate and saw the blaze.

"The entire upstairs unit of the two-bedroom townhouse was just smoldering and engulfed," he said.

A Jacksonville Fire-Rescue photo from inside the burned unit showed damage on the walls and ceiling and a destroyed fireplace.

"I pretty much lost everything -- all my clothes, brand new furniture. I just moved in at the end of October," Zapata said. "I'm pretty shaken up. I had problems sleeping last night. I would fall asleep, wake up choking from the smoke."

He was able to spend the night at his fiancee's home. He has renter's insurance and said most importantly, he has his pictures and memorabilia because firefighters took the time and effort to save them from his mantle. 

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