JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Twenty-four adults and nine children were displaced after a fire ripped through an apartment building in the Jacksonville Heights area on the Westside on Monday, the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department said.
JFRD Chief Keith Powers said that firefighters responded about 2:45 p.m. to the fire at Jacksonville Heights Apartments off 103rd Street, just west of Interstate 295, and flames were through the roof when the first units arrived on scene.
“That roof was collapsing, so we couldn’t get them inside that area, but they had to get into those other areas, pull ceilings down, and then get up there and put the fire out in the attic,” Powers said at a news briefing. “That is labor intensive and takes a lot of time.”
About 3 p.m., according to JFRD, a second alarm was called for the fire. A third alarm, which reflects the need for more manpower, was called about 3:50 p.m.
“You could literally see flames coming from the building. It was crazy, man,” said witness King Edwards.
Witness Tommy Blue said: “The fire got bigger and bigger and bigger.”
At one point, traffic was backed up on 103rd Street and at least one lane was closed.
“We could just see a lot of smoke,” said neighbor Amanda Lee.
Powers said a total of about 115 firefighters responded, including crews from Naval Air Station Jacksonville.
The fire took almost an hour and a half to control, but Powers said crews did a good job keeping the flames from getting into the attic of the adjoining building, where there was no firewall.
According to JFRD, 12 apartment units were affected — 11 of which were occupied. Aerials from Sky 4 appeared to show that most of the units were gutted, while others had smoke and water damage.
Rico Merrit told News4Jax that he and his wife and granddaughter were in their apartment when his granddaughter noticed something was wrong out back and alerted her grandparents.
“My granddaughter came running in the room because she was in the living room watching cartoons. She came running in the room and explain to us that something was wrong, so when I came out, that’s when I saw the fire on the patio,” Merrit said.
Merritt said it looked like the fire was coming out of a patio closet, so he ran and got a fire extinguisher to try and put the fire.
“I did as much as I could with the fire extinguisher then got myself out,” Merritt said.
He and his family, along with others in the building, got out safe, including 2-year-old Kenzie Alexander, who was with her father and grandmother. Her uncle, Rafael Smith, rushed to the scene, fearing the worse, after hearing about the fire.
“I was running red lights and all that. It was crazy. It was a very traumatic experience,” Smith said.
Fortunately, JFRD said, no injuries were reported. Two kittens were also unharmed after firefighters pulled them to safety and reunited them with their owners.
The American Red Cross responded to assist the families that were displaced by the fire.
“This is one of the larger ones,” said American Red Cross spokesperson Christian Smith. “We see this a couple times a year, but it’s always tragic when people lose their belongings and things that mean so much to them.”
As of Thursday evening, five of the displaced families were living in units that were already vacant, while the rest were either staying with relatives or in a hotel.
Crews left the area just after 7 p.m. when they were sure the threat of a flare-up had fully dissipated.
The state fire marshal and ATF will be investigating the cause.