TAMPA — The fire began across the hall. When a lightning bolt hit Monday afternoon at 8699 Key Royal Lane, wild yellow flames danced across the roof and consumed the three-bedroom apartment where Lauren Wilson lived with her two roommates.
None were home during the fire. But they were among about 50 people who were left homeless after the blaze blew through 18 units in the Grande Oasis complex near Carrollwood, doing more than $800,000 damage.
"The most recent update they had was that they were going to try to let us get what we can from the apartment," Wilson, 22, said Tuesday. "Right now, we're still trying to figure out what to do."
On its face, the disaster seems unusual in its magnitude. A house fire might displace a handful of people. But serving the needs of as many as 50 people poses a challenge for organizations like the American Red Cross, which routinely respond to such disasters.
Though the fire is bigger than what the organization usually deals with, it's far from being bigger than they can handle.
"We prepare for whatever is needed," Red Cross spokeswoman Janet McGuire said. "We have drills for major disasters all the time."
Those drills include the familiar and the feared — hurricanes, tornadoes, aircraft accidents.
"When we get a call, our volunteers sit down with each one of the families to get an idea of what their needs are," McGuire said. "We make sure they have something to eat, somewhere to sleep."
The needs can go beyond basics like shelter and food. Red Cross volunteers can help people get medication lost in a disaster, or even replacements for prosthetic limbs and other medical equipment.
A house fire might draw two Red Cross volunteers, who can help residents get into a shelter. A larger incident draws more volunteers and more resources. About 10 volunteers responded to help those affected by the Carrollwood fire, McGuire said.
In any case, though, the Red Cross might not be the only lifeline for those affected. For those displaced by the Carrollwood fire, some got help from the apartment complex management. The company put up residents at the Hampton Inn on Waters Avenue.
At midday Tuesday, the Red Cross was trying to find shelter for residents who still needed a place for the night.
Meanwhile, Wilson and her roommates were trying to negotiate a new place to live in the same complex. They tried to make the best of it.
"We're thinking of it as a new start," she said.
Dan Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com.