Questions linger after smoke clears in Southside apartment fire

Firefighter hit by falling object, but no other injuries reported in 2-alarm fire

Questions about safety are swirling around an apartment complex on Jacksonville’s Southside after a 20-unit building went up in flames Sunday afternoon.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Questions about safety are swirling around an apartment complex on Jacksonville’s Southside after a 20-unit building went up in flames Sunday afternoon.

The apartment fire sent at least one firefighter to the hospital after he was struck by a falling object. No other injuries were reported.

People who live in the building off Paradise Island Boulevard credit two teens with saving their lives. The teens ran into the burning building and went door to door, making sure everyone inside got out safely.

Besides the teens knocking on doors and pulling the fire alarm, residents told News4Jax they had no warning.

“No smoke alarm, no sprinklers, no nothing. Not a thing, it was quiet,” resident Lisa Accomando said.

Added Kerry Wagoner: “I didn’t hear anything at all — nothing, not a thing. I just heard a lot of popping and a heard a lot of people screaming.”

City records obtained by News4Jax show that the apartment complex passed inspection in 2018. It did not, however, pass a September 2016 safety inspection because “the property failed to maintain the required annual inspection of its fire alarm system," Fire Marshal Chief Kevin Jones said. Jones noted that the outstanding issue was fixed by the time the property was re-inspected one month later.

Accomando lives in the unit immediately below where the fire is believed to have started. She said it’s unbelievable that no one aside from a firefighter was hurt.

“I think it’s because those teens got everybody out,” Accomando said. “They saw the flames and they tried to get in. They didn’t hear alarms, either, no smoke alarms. So they just started banging on doors and they pulled the alarm outside, and that is when everyone started leaving.”

Jones said even though the property is scheduled to have an inspection done this month, he planned to return to the complex to address some questions about whether the fire alarm system activated on Sunday. He said he will release updated findings by close of business on Tuesday.

In response to questions from News4Jax, the management company for Paradise Island released the following statement:

“Thank you for your concern. Paradise Island is thankful for the professionalism and hard work of the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department and the residents of our community who assisted their neighbors during Sunday’s incident. Affected residents have been relocated to temporary housing. Since this is an active investigation, we are directing all requests for information to the fire department investigators. We appreciate your cooperation.”

Several families began returning to the complex on Monday, less than 24 hours after flames ripped through their homes. Many of the residents came back in hopes they could salvage some of their belongings.

Certified fire investigators with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were also on hand Monday, providing technical support to the State Fire Marshal’s Office, which is investigating the fire.

News4Jax saw investigators with hard hats on exiting the destroyed apartment building carrying salvaged belongings including important documents, firearms and a jewelry box. Our crew was told security will be keeping an eye on the complex to help protect residents’ belongings.

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It appeared part of the roof of the apartment building collapsed.