PALM HARBOR — They smelled smoke. They heard a fire alarm. But some residents at the Landings at Boot Ranch didn't budge until neighbors told them to get out.
More than 30 people were evacuated Thursday from the complex after a fire crept inside an exterior wall, pushing smoke into several apartments, said Bob Markford, EMS and safety chief for Palm Harbor Fire Rescue.
Smoke filled several apartments. But no one was injured and none of the units sustained direct fire damage, Markford said.
At 12:41 p.m., a tenant in one of the ground-floor units smelled smoke and called for help. About nine crews from Palm Harbor, Safety Harbor and East Lake arrived at the Katherine Boulevard apartment complex, after initial crews called for backup.
At first, firefighters saw only puffs of smoke, but more crews were called to the Landings in case fire spread to adjoining units, Markford said.
"In something like this, you're better off getting a little bit ahead of it because you can always send them home," Markford said.
One of the Palm Harbor crews found the source of the fire using a thermal imager. The fire apparently began inside an exterior wall near unit No. 8110, which first alerted authorities. Flames climbed inside the wall over to the second-floor balcony.
Crews took 45 minutes to extinguish the fire because they wanted to make sure it was completely out, Markford.
"My mom smelled smoke for about an hour," said Aaron Bassi, 15, who lives in a second-floor apartment with his mother, brother and sister.
They stayed put for several minutes after the alarm went off because they thought it was a drill, he said. The complex had a fire drill the day before.
Isabelle Raggins, 61, who lives with her cousin and granddaughter, searched her apartment for fire after a neighbor knocked on her door and said tenants smelled smoke. But Raggins and her family didn't evacuate until someone else knocked at the door and told them to get out.
A couple of hours after the call, a few firefighters were still on the scene, working to get electricity turned back on and trying to determine the cause of the fire.
Rodney Thrash can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4167. Lorri Helfand can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4155.