SAFETY HARBOR — Gregory Weiner was headed toward his front door to find the source of the ruckus outside when a Pinellas County sheriff's deputy started banging on it.
It was just after 1:30 a.m. and Weiner's apartment building at 380 Second Ave. N was engulfed in flames.
"Do you have a family?" the deputy asked him. "Everyone needs to evacuate."
Weiner, 48, and his wife scooped up their two sleeping boys, ages 3 and 6, wrapped them in blankets and headed outside where other neighbors were gathered.
A 24-year-old woman in the second-story unit where the fire started suffered minor burns, Safety Harbor fire officials said. Jacqueline Lee Britton was treated and released from Mease Countryside Hospital. Her father, 53-year-old Thomas N. Britton, was taken to Mease for chest pains and dizziness, said Safety Harbor fire inspector David Pacheco. He was also treated and released, according to a hospital spokeswoman.
No one else was injured and several cats also were rescued.
Officials say more injuries were likely averted because two sheriff's deputies alerted other residents that the building was ablaze.
"The Sheriff's Office, all the firemen, were absolutely tremendous," Weiner said. "They treated me and my family like gold. … They were just comforting us and they brought chairs over and bottles of ice water."
According to the Sheriff's Office, Deputy Robert Burns was on routine patrol in the area when he smelled smoke, then saw fire coming out of the second floor on the east corner of the beige apartment building.
Burns notified dispatchers. Deputy Greg Burnham arrived and helped Burns knock on doors to wake the neighbors and get them out of the burning building.
Jacqueline Britton told deputies she saw the fire in her apartment and tried to put it out, then called 911 when her attempts were unsuccessful. She and her father had made it outside by the time deputies arrived.
Six of the building's seven units were occupied at the time. At least three units were damaged in the blaze, including the Brittons' apartment, which was gutted.
In all, 13 people were affected by the fire. By late afternoon Thursday, nine had been allowed back into their apartments. Others were being assisted by the American Red Cross.
Fire units from Safety Harbor, Dunedin and Oldsmar responded to the scene.
Safety Harbor Fire Marshal Richard Brock said the cause of the fire is yet to be determined.