Firefighters battle blaze that engulfs Town 'N Country apart­ment building (w/video)

Published October 15 2015
Updated October 15 2015

TAMPA — As their apartment building went up in flames early Thursday, Shauna Keller and her family stood helpless outside.

Everything was gone, and Keller's renter's insurance — purchased just weeks earlier — didn't start until Nov. 1.

"We just sat there and watched it burn for hours because ours was the last one to go out," said Keller, 24, who lived at the Captiva Club Apartments with her brother and two other roommates.

Hillsborough fire officials said a fire broke out in one building of the Town 'N Country complex off Memorial Highway and Kelly Road around 5:30 a.m. By the time it was extinguished three hours later, 12 units were burned leaving 39 residents displaced.

Hillsborough County Fire and Rescue spokeswoman Nacole Revette said no residents were injured in the blaze. One firefighter was transported to a nearby hospital but was in stable condition.

As of Thursday afternoon, the cause of the fire was still unknown because investigators still could not enter the apartments.

Before sunup Thursday, smoke billowed from the roof as firefighters doused the flames with heavy streams of water from above. Windows shattered, and the external walls flexed and swayed.

But with the threat of the building becoming too unstable and collapsing, Revette said, crews eventually ceased the water sprays and went in to attack hot spots.

Residents said they observed the flames spread from apartment to apartment and wall to wall with relative ease, although Revette noted there were fire walls in place.

"The neighbors were knocking on everybody's doors to get out of the building," said one resident, Mary Johnson, 50. "It's horrifying. My heart is still racing."

Residents headed to an office building at the front of the complex as American Red Cross and emergency management officials arrived. Clutching water bottles and cups of coffee, families waited inside for instructions.

Robert Griffiths, one of the property managers, paced in and out the room.

"We'll make sure they get placed nearby," he said.

County code enforcement officials were at the complex but also could not immediately enter the apartments.

According to Hillsborough Property Appraiser records, other Captiva Club apartment buildings accrued violations this year and last related to defective smoke detectors, electrical wiring and light and ventilation systems. The violations have since been resolved.

Keller said she tried to re-enter her apartment to see what could be salvaged but was driven away by thick plumes of smoke. She returned to the parking lot, which was illuminated by the massive blaze behind her. Dozens of pajama-clad residents huddled nearby, staring at the flames before the sun rose.