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    Flames damage Ridge Road apartments

    A couple moving in placed a box on a stove and left. Later, utility workers turned on the electricity from the outside.

    By CHRIS TISCH

    © St. Petersburg Times, published March 2, 2001


    LARGO -- Flames blazed from the bottom to the top of the six-unit apartment, leaving a gaping black hole in the middle. The fire shot through the roof, then crawled sideways before firefighters pushed it back.

    The blackened roof was split like a log by the flames.

    Laurie Mashburn gazed at her apartment, which was connected to the unit that caught fire Thursday afternoon. Crews had not allowed her inside yet, but she feared the worst.

    "I'm anxious to see what I've got left," she said through tears. "I just don't know what to do. That's everything I have. They told me my stuff upstairs is pretty messed up."

    Mashburn's unit received moderate damage and another unit was destroyed in the fire at Oak Ridge Apartments, 13333 Ridge Road. Fire officials estimated damage at up to $100,000. Officials were waiting for a detailed examination of the unit Thursday evening to determine whether three families or four would be displaced.

    No one was injured. Firefighters saved a cat from one of the units.

    The fire started when a couple moving into an apartment placed a box on a stove. The power was off at the time. While they were gone to pick up more of their belongings, a crew from Florida Power flipped on the power from outside the unit. Unbeknownst to anyone, a burner on the stove was on. It caught the box on fire, said Division Chief Dave King of the Largo Fire Department.

    The fire burned for some time before a Pinellas County sheriff's deputy spotted it and called 911 at 2:24 p.m. Meanwhile, the residents of another connected unit were arriving home when they heard an alarm blare. One of them ran to the office.

    When fire crews arrived, flames were rocketing through the roof.

    "There were huge clouds of smoke," said Mary Arendt, who saw the smoke as she brought her daughter home from school. "It was scary. It was pretty intense."

    Her daughter, 15-year-old Lindsay, used a video camera to tape firefighters arriving on the scene. She also captured the firefighters pulling the cat from the unit.

    The apartment where the fire started was destroyed, while the bedrooms in the unit Mashburn shares with her boyfriend and roommate received some smoke and water damage. The ceilings in those bedrooms had virtually collapsed, King said.

    Two other units sustained minor damage, King said.

    Three engines, two squad units and a ladder truck were dispatched to the fire. About 18 firefighters from the Largo and Seminole fire departments fought the blaze, King said.

    Officials with the Tampa Bay Chapter of the American Red Cross were helping residents after the fire was extinguished. The Red Cross planned to provide food, clothing and possibly shelter for up to 11 people, said marketing and public affairs director Janet McGuire.

    Mental health counselors also were summoned to help the victims, she said.

    Marie Callahan said her daughter, Kerry Warner, lives with her husband and two young children in one of the connected units. They were coming home when they heard the alarm. Their unit received minor damage, King said.

    But no matter the damage, Callahan said she was just glad no one was hurt. She also was touched by the kindness of neighbors who brought toys and clothes to the family as they waited for fire crews to allow them inside their unit.

    "I told them just thank God that everybody is okay," Callahan said. "Material possessions mean nothing."

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