TAMPA — Stephen Ghaisarzadeh awoke Tuesday to find a fire in the laundry room of his apartment. Flames burned his arm and singed his hair. Four fire extinguishers later, the fire still raged.
Ghaisarzadeh ran outside just before 5 a.m. to knock on the front doors of neighbors in the Commons apartment complex on Lancaster Court, pulling two fire alarms along the way. Flames burned through the roof of the two-story building and 70 firefighters worked to get the fire under control in two hours.
"Once it got going it didn't take much to keep it going," said Ray Yeakley, a Hillsborough County Fire Rescue spokesman.
Ghaisarzadeh, 29, and his brother, Shaun, 21, didn't have time to save the flat-screen TV, clothes or cash inside their home. All he has left are the red shorts he was wearing. Under a bandage, his right arm ached as if he'd left it on a grill.
He could live with that. But inside the apartment was an album of baby pictures of him and flags from the military funeral of his grandfather, who served in Korea and Vietnam.
For hours, he hung around the complex waiting to be told where to go, but he couldn't bear to look at his apartment. It was all black. All gone.
Eight apartments were destroyed and fire officials estimate up to six could be salvaged, said fire rescue spokesman Ray Yeakley. Some residents in a nearby building were evacuated. The cause of the fire was not immediately known. Ghaisarzadeh was the only person with reported injuries.
The Red Cross opened a shelter at Forest Hills United Methodist Church, 904 W Linebaugh Ave., for 40 people from 16 displaced families. Three families planned to stay with relatives.
On the other end of the burned building, firefighters rescued a puppy. Neighbors cooed as they watched Yappy, a 4-month-old Japanese chin with long white and black hair, pulled from the apartment of Eddie Rivera's family. The wet, shivering puppy was wrapped in the arms of a friend.
Rivera said his wife and teenage children were worried about the puppy, who was rescued nearly four hours after his stepdaughter's husband knocked on Rivera's front door and told them to get out. Rivera, 41, returned for the tiny puppy but couldn't find him. Rivera thanked firefighters.
On the blackened, roofless end of the building, firefighters worked hours after the fire was extinguished to control hot spots. And they made another save.
"You found it!" Ghaisarzadeh yelled as he accepted his grandfather's flags, which were wrapped in plastic. "Thank you very much."
Ghaisarzadeh bumped fists with firefighters and held back tears.