LARGO — Greg Stoddard woke up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom and smelled smoke. The 50-year-old walked into the living room and saw it filled with smoke.
Stoddard and his son, Ronald, 25, didn't hear any smoke alarms sounding so they ran to notify their neighbors in the apartment complex.
"If I hadn't have been running around knocking on doors with that fire extinguisher waking people up — me and my son — it probably would have cost people their lives," he said.
Fire officials said the blaze broke out about 2:30 a.m. at the Brittany Bay Apartments, 1201 Seminole Blvd. The fire started in a vacant unit on the second floor, according to Largo Fire Rescue's Assistant Fire Marshal Tim Wedin.
No one was injured in the fire, but 16 units had to be evacuated overnight. Eight of those units still will be uninhabitable today, Wedin said. He estimated the total damage at $500,000.
"We have nothing. Absolutely nothing," Stoddard said Monday afternoon. "There's nothing left to salvage. We're lucky we got out in our underwear."
The cause of the fire is under investigation. Authorities are trying to figure out whether the smoke alarms in the building were working at the time of the fire.
With little warning, residents had to escape as fast as possible.
Harold Rhymer walked away from the apartment complex with his possessions placed in a rolling suitcase. He was still in his blue pajamas as he walked through the parking lot.
"I was awoken by the smell and a lot of smoke," Rhymer said.
Robert McLaughlin said that most of the damage to his apartment was from smoke and water.
Stoddard's description was more dramatic. The ceiling fell in the apartment where he lives with his wife and his son and one of the walls fell in, too. Stoddard said it looked like it got hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.
A Red Cross worker said 16 people were affected by the blaze, 25 if you count the ones who lost electricity. They are being given temporary assistance with housing and other necessities.
Jonathan Abel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4157.