Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Blaze that destroyed Lealman apartment building raises fire hydrant concerns again

LEALMAN — A large blaze that broke out in an apartment complex before dawn and destroyed an entire building Friday revived questions about Lealman's fire hydrant system.

Town Apartments North, 5855 18th St. N, a retirement community just east of Interstate 275, was also the scene of a notorious fire in 2003. Residents in the area have complained before about a lack of hydrants and the speed at which firefighters extinguish fires.

Hours after the fire was reported at 5:50 a.m., firefighters were on a ladder truck still dousing a large hole in the roof of the complex's Florian Building. Officials said 20 residents were evacuated, many to the clubhouse. Of the 20 units in the building, 18 were affected. Seven of the units are rented by people who live out of state, so they were empty.

The complex does not have sprinklers, residents said. Firewalls were built after a 2003 fire destroyed the 54-unit, three-story Nautilus building at the complex. Residents then were left homeless and facing financial ruin because they were under- or uninsured. That June 21 fire began in the kitchen of a second-floor apartment.

The cause of Friday's fire is still being investigated, but detectives say the fire was not intentionally set. Like the fire six years ago, preliminary evidence suggests Friday's blaze began in the kitchen of a second-floor unit. The owner lives in Canada, and the unit was unoccupied.

In the 2003 blaze, firefighters were hampered by too few hydrants. The closest was about 800 feet from the burning building. The lack of hydrants prompted a debate between Pinellas County, which oversees fire service in the area, and St. Petersburg, which supplies the water. The county said at least 160 hydrants were needed in Lealman and that St. Petersburg was responsible for installing them. St. Petersburg said it was the county's duty.

The county ultimately agreed to pay St. Petersburg to install 44 hydrants.

Three hydrants were installed near the complex, Lealman Fire Rescue Capt. Larry Thompson said, but residents on Friday expressed concern that they were inadequate.

Resident Bill Walker, who said he was inside the Nautilus building when it caught fire in 2003, said that despite added hydrants, "people around here have always said we are low on fire hydrants. It's the power that be. It costs a lot of money."

On Friday, firefighters ran hoses from a hydrant several hundred yards away, on 62nd Avenue. Thompson said that did not hamper firefighters. The hydrant in front of the building was also used, but the one on 62nd has better water pressure by design, he said.

"They've made big advances with the extra hydrants and some new association rules,'' he added.

Milna Orobhiech, from Croatia, said she lost everything and had no insurance. "Everything is gone," she said, "all gone."

Orobheich's friend Jokk Radnovic, who lives in another building, cried when she found out her friend was okay. "I heard sirens," she said. "I was sick."

Halil Mekic, who lived in Unit 7, said he was a professional musician in Bosnia before he fled war there. The 65-year-old lamented the loss of his Fender guitar, Roland keyboard, Peavey amp and three computers from his personal studio.

"I am satisfied," he said. "I live. I have insurance."

Emily Nipps can be reached at or (727) 893-8452.

Fire scorches St. Petersburg retirement complex

View Larger Map

Blaze that destroyed Lealman apartment building raises fire hydrant concerns again 10/23/09 [Last modified: Saturday, October 24, 2009 12:21am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Tampa officer treated for knee injury after police truck, police SUV collide


    Times staff

    TAMPA — A Tampa police officer was treated and released for a knee injury after an unmarked police truck collided with his patrol SUV while following a stolen car, a police spokesman said.

  2. Waiting for the eclipse: 'Everyone thinks this is cool'

    Human Interest

    ST. PETERSBURG — Hunter Holland came to school Monday with a NASA space T-shirt and solar viewers in his button-up shirt pocket. But he'd rather be in Missouri.

    Jayda Hebert (front, center), 11, uses her protective glasses to watch Monday's solar eclipse with her cousin, Judah Adams (back left), 11, and her brother Jake Hebert (right), 9, while with their family at St. Petersburg Beach. "We're skipping school for the eclipse," her mom, Sarah Hebert, said. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times]
  3. Second person resigns from Hillsborough diversity council after Confederate activist appointed


    TAMPA — A second person has resigned symbolically from the Hillsborough County Diversity Advisory Council after the appointment of a known activist of Confederate causes to the panel. 

    Two people have resigned from the Hillsborough County Diversity Advisory Council after the inclusion of David McCallister, a leader of the local branch of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
  4. Everyone on Twitter is making this same eclipse joke


    Today's total solar eclipse is, of course, a social media event as much as it is a natural phenomenon. Twitter even rolled out an #eclipse hashtag that automatically adds an eclipse emoji.

    The solar eclipse is inspiring Twitter humor.
  5. Video: See how the solar eclipse unfolded across the country


    Americans gazed in wonder through telescopes, cameras and disposable protective glasses Monday as the moon blotted out the midday sun in the first full-blown solar eclipse to sweep the U.S. from coast to coast in nearly a century.

    The moon is seen as it starts passing in front of the sun during a solar eclipse from Ross Lake, Northern Cascades National Park, in Washington on Monday, Aug. 21, 2017. [Bill Ingalls | NASA via AP]