St. PETERSBURG — Arson is suspected in a fire that destroyed 12 apartments early Sunday morning in Feather Sound.
The fire broke out about 2:30 a.m. at the Bay Meadow complex at 13795 Feather Sound Circle E, according to authorities. It appears the fire was set on the outside and then spread quickly, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office said, wrecking the upstairs and downstairs units in the building.
All the units except one were occupied. No one was hurt, but Pinellas Park fire officials reported a pet dog suffered minor burns.
Sixty firefighters spent roughly 80 minutes extinguishing the flames. The fire collapsed the roof and the first floor of the complex.
On Sunday morning, residents and their friends searched for what little they could salvage amid the debris.
Jack Little and fiance Karla Swenson woke up to the sound of people running down the stairs outside their first-floor apartment. They looked outside to see the flames roaring.
That's when the couple — and a few visiting relatives — jumped out the back window, taking their cats along with them.
"We all still feel it in our chests, burning in our nose," said Karla Swenson, 25.
"No one was hurt, that's the good thing," said Jack Little, 26.
Just before noon, Dave Isherwood, 33, stood outside his burned apartment, trying to wring a moment of calm out of a beer and a cigarette.
He ran out of the apartment so quickly the night before that he didn't take his shoes. On Sunday, he was wearing his wife's sneakers, the only shoes he could salvage. Isherwood's wife and children were out of town Saturday night, but he and his mother-in-law were shaken by the blaze.
He was trying to recover jewelry, financial papers and any of his kids' toys, he said.
Within hours of the fire, authorities put up signs that labeled it a suspected arson. The signs offer $2,500 rewards for anyone with information.
Pinellas Park Deputy Fire Chief Steven McCarthy said each apartment was valued at about $125,000 and all 12 were a complete loss. Long after the fire had been put down, the firefighters were helping the families get their belongings out of the building.
Firefighters found wallets, keys, and passports that residents needed. They also carried pieces of furniture, computer terminals and suitcases from the apartments. Neighbors pitched in, lugging belongings away from the building.
Jonathan Abel can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4157.