JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – While multiple Northeast Florida areas were experiencing flooding as Nicole battered the state, a fire broke out Thursday at an apartment complex on Jacksonville’s Northside, displacing dozens of people, officials said.
According to the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department, the fire was reported around 3:20 p.m. at the Island Pointe Apartments.
JFRD said it was a four-alarm fire, meaning the agency had to call for additional personnel and resources. Multiple Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office cruisers could also be seen at the complex on Island Point Drive along the Trout River.
JFRD said crews had a tough time fighting the fire, as the weather, including the wind from Nicole, was a factor that they were dealing with. Plus, earlier, the complex was flooded.
JEA cut power to the entire complex, as requested by JFRD.
There were nearly 100 firefighters who responded to the incident. As of around 5:40 p.m., JFRD had pulled all firefighters out of the building and was using ladder hoses to fight the blaze. In the end, it took close to four hours to contain the fire.
The apartment building where the fire broke out is a total loss, according to JFRD.
The American Red Cross was called for dozens of people who are now homeless and is helping them get food, clothes and a place to stay. The Red Cross doesn’t have a count of displaced people yet, but of the 16 units affected, only eight were occupied. According to JFRD, there could be close to 30 people displaced. News4JAX saw two Jacksonville Transportation Authority busses to help transport those people.
Many people were also left at the front of the complex, waiting to get back to their homes.
Alexander Loukinanov was one of many residents who left after the floodwaters receded. Hours passed before they could check on their homes.
“It was one of the closer buildings, but thankful for me I’m OK, but we’re obviously worried about my housemates and whoever is in there,” Loukinanov said.
News4JAX talked to others living at the complex who provided some insight into what may have caused the fire. Tracy Southern, who lives at the complex, said the parking lot started flooding during Nicole. She said that around 10 a.m., she smelled smoke from her apartment, and when she looked outside, her electric circuit box was smoking. She said she called 911, afraid if she went outside, she would be shocked because the complex was flooded.
“We looked outside and the box, the electric circuit box, so we’re, like, ‘Do we risk outside and risk getting shocked or do we stay here and stay here and risk getting caught on fire?’ So we called the fire department, and they were, like, ‘We’ll be right there,’” recounted Southern. “And they tore a hole in the flooring and the wall and said there was no insulation barrier between the sheetrock and the breaker box and that it was on fire underneath, and if we were to call them any later, that wall probably would have caught on fire.”
Southern said they put out that fire pretty much as soon as it started.
“Thankfully, it was caught in time,” she said. “They called JEA and told them to get someone out here to cut off the electricity so it wouldn’t happen to all the other places, and once they did that, they got a call with three other buildings out there, having their breaker boxes catch on fire and smoking, as well.”
JFRD confirmed firefighters were called to the same apartment complex earlier in the day to work on the electrical issues before they got the call around 3:20 p.m., saying they were wading through water to get to the circuit boxes. Hours later is when one of the other buildings went up in flames.
Southern said her two dogs and cats were left inside her apartment, but they’re OK.
As of Wednesday evening, investigators were still at the scene and the complex was still without power. News4JAX was told the state fire marshal will investigate the blaze, which is standard protocol.