ST. PETERSBURG — Sitting in her car in a pair of borrowed gym shorts, her arms streaked with soot, Carly O'Shea could only stare in disbelief at the charred remains of her home after a fire gutted the little apartment on 93rd Avenue N on Thursday afternoon.
She shares the two-bedroom unit with her fiance, Benjamin James, 30, daughter Deejay, 7, and son Christian, 2. Thursday afternoon, she sent Deejay to a neighbor's house, fell asleep and woke up to find the living room in flames.
"We had to run through the fire to get out," O'Shea, 27, said. "It was either go then, or be trapped."
What's left is a twisted mass of blackened furniture from the living room, a small pile of clothing and the couple's cell phones. No one was hurt, though the family's cat died of smoke inhalation.
With no home, no money and barely any clothes, O'Shea doesn't know where to turn.
"I don't know what we're going to do," O'Shea said, wiping away tears. "I prayed this would never happen."
O'Shea and James are students at St. Petersburg College, majoring in health fitness and electrical engineering, respectively. James was laid off from a job at Red Lobster last year, and the two decided to live off student loans until he graduates in December.
He planned on finding a better job then, she said. They wanted to buy a house, settle down.
Now that goal seems impossible.
Fire officials say they're not sure how or where the fire started, but it destroyed the living room in O'Shea's apartment and caused smoke damage throughout the rest of the unit. None of the three other apartments in the couple's complex at 419 93rd Ave. N was damaged.
"This building's a solid concrete block," Capt. Rob Nugent said. "It's like a big furnace. Smoke doesn't get out."
Several fire trucks arrived on scene at 2:23 p.m. and had the fire out by 2:31 p.m., Nugent said.
The Red Cross will shelter O'Shea, James and their children for the next three days. After that is anyone's guess, O'Shea said.
Outside the apartment building Thursday, James said there's nothing his family can do but move forward.
"We'll just pray to God that something good happens," he said.