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Renters return after fire with mixed emotions

Residents salvage their possessions and watch the Foxcroft complex readied for demolition.

By JOSH ZIMMER

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 22, 2001


TAMPA -- Victims of a devastating fire returned to the Foxcroft apartment complex Wednesday morning to pick up the scattered pieces of their lives.

They found an eerily subdued scene. Less than 24 hours earlier, dozens of firefighters battled the blaze, which started around 2:30 p.m. Tuesday after two men in an upstairs unit left a burning pot on the stove, fire officials said. At least 20 people, including children, were left homeless.

As they expressed relief for escaping unharmed, residents watched a cleanup team ready the charred building for demolition and help them salvage their possessions.

With hope came varying degrees of frustration, anger, even humor.

"I'm better," said George DeJesus. Water ruined his mother Maggie's beloved Bible, a gift from her cousin. But they came away with photos, furniture and clothes. Neither was home when the blaze erupted.

"We didn't take a bad loss, considering how big this fire was," said DeJesus, describing his neighbors as a close-knit group that used to barbecue together. Hoisting his bird cage with a solidly perched wooden parrot, he smiled and said, "He made it!"

DeJesus and his neighbors lived on the bottom floor; they were luckier than upstairs residents, who lost nearly everything.

Dina Morales, who lived on the bottom floor with her husband, sifted through piles of furniture and electronics. They were being loaded into a U-Haul truck for transport to a temporary apartment at another complex owned by Alliance Residential Maintenance. Her cockatiel and lovebird were being watched by neighbors.

Morales thanked one of the tenants, Jaime Frangie, for knocking on the door and alerting her husband to the fire. Frangie and his brother-in-law, Johnny Giraldo, called 911 and banged on doors.

Hillsborough County Fire Rescue estimated total damage at $500,000. Spokesman Ray Yeakley said a sprinkler system would have saved the building but that sprinklers were not required when the two-story building was approved 20 years ago and are not mandatory now. Smoke detectors did work, he said.

One victim was placed in a hotel room, but everyone else managed to find temporary housing with friends and relatives, said Red Cross spokeswoman Janet McGuire. As of Wednesday, the group had doled out about $4,000 for food, clothing and medication, she said.

- Josh Zimmer can be reached at (813) 226-3474 or zimmer@sptimes.com.

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