TAMPA — Yanet Marrero was taking a sick day from work when she heard a knock on her apartment door and warnings about a fire early Monday.
Marrero could only grab her phone, purse and a jacket before rushing out. When she left her building, she was confronted by smoke.
She had moved into the apartment about a month ago, spending all her money on it. The fire didn't just damage her apartment — part of the complex's destroyed roof fell on her car.
"When I see that, I look at my son, I start crying. I said, 'I know we'll lose everything,' " said Marrero, a hotel housekeeper with two sons, ages 16 and 3.
Marrero's family was one of dozens displaced by a kitchen fire in an apartment complex with a history of arson.
Tampa Fire Rescue crews got a call from a resident at Waterman's Crossing Apartments, 4515 N Rome Ave., about 12:30 a.m. Crews found flames coming from the first and second stories of the affected apartment building, one of nearly two dozen buildings in the complex.
Maureen Bailey woke to a banging on her door and cries for help. Her son heard an alarm and saw smoke when he looked outside. By the time they escaped, fire trucks had arrived.
"Before you know it there was an explosion, and it started flaming," Bailey said.
That's when the fire expanded, moving to the third floor and prompting a third alarm, which brought three more engines to the scene.
Firefighters said most of the flames were out by 2 a.m. The roof was destroyed, and every unit in the building looked as though it was touched by fire, smoke or water damage.
No injuries were reported, but dozens of people, including some in their pajamas, milled around the complex after dawn Monday. The fire, which was caused by unattended cooking, did an estimated $310,000 in damage.
The American Red Cross arrived early to provide assistance, but residents said they weren't sure how to proceed.
Bailey couldn't even find the number for her son's school to tell them he'd be absent.
"We're just stuck," Bailey said.
Resident Neal McIntyre heard a knock on his door and an alarm. He and his wife were only able to grab their identification, wallets and car keys.
"That's it," he said. "Everything else we lost."
Waterman's Crossing has a history of fire and code violations extending back several years.
As of 2008, the complex had been cited for code violations 101 times. That year, inspectors found smoke detectors were missing in some of the units and fire alarms in five of the complex's 23 buildings didn't work, forcing off-duty fire inspectors to patrol the complex.
It was deemed compliant later that year. Soon after, smoke alarms saved residents from a fire.
Two more fires, both arsons, displaced more than 50 residents in one month in 2009. A third fire broke out the same week as the second fire when someone poured flammable liquid through a mail slot in the leasing office. That fire was quickly extinguished.
Claire Wiseman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.