PLANT CITY (FOX 13) - A fire at the Plant City Farm & Flea Market destroyed a cafe and a large amount of produce. It's a big loss for vendors, who were not expecting and stocking up for a busy holiday weekend of sales.
Twisted metal and wood pallets sit in a pile, mixed with avocados, potatoes, pineapples and grapefruits, still wet from the spray of fire hoses. That's all that remains of Casa Ruiz Cafe. As of Friday afternoon, the cause of the fire is still under investigation.
Around 12:40 a.m. Friday, Hillsborough County Fire Rescue got a call that Casa Ruiz Cafe, inside the market, was on fire. Security guard Louis Auger first spotted the trouble.
"A little bit of flames and then it turned out to be a lot because there's boxes in there," Auger said.
It took fire crews 4 1/2 hours to get a handle on the flames. The steel warehouse trapped heat in, making it a dangerous fight. Firefighters used gas-powered saws to cut through the side of the steel building in order to get access to fight the fire from outside.
"I was there on the other side of the railroad tracks and I seen a big cloud of smoke," said onion vendor Fidel Aburto.
The fire destroyed more than just a building, it consumed a community staple, thousands of dollars of potential profit and peoples' livelihoods.
"I really don't know what to say. I'm just kind of at a loss for words right now," said Ferris Waller, the owner of the market.
"We had a busy day today, it being Good Friday, right before the holidays," said Chris Phillips of Phillips Produce. "We were stocked up on stuff so, today should've been a good day. But now, we are going to lose the business for 2-3 days and with all the product, it's going to put a big damper on it."
"Makes me feel really sad," said Phillps employee Jonathan Gonzalez. "It's my job, it's something to support my family. It's really hard."
Abel Guzman's grandparents started their business more than 30 years ago. To see it brought down in a matter of minutes, he said, is heart wrenching. "Every little dollar that's on the floor behind me is everything we worked so hard for," Guzman said. "The only thing we can do right now is stay strong as a family and really try to pull through with this."
On the corner of Alexander Street and Sam Allen Road, the Plant City Farm & Flea Market operated as normally as it could on Friday.
"We just try to make business," said vendor Mary Menne.
Though customers went from tent to tent, it was hard ignore the burned ruins and wasted product just a few yards to the east.
"Not making money, the fire over there. So sad," said Menne. "Slow day. Yes, very slow."
Casa Ruiz Cafe has been open more than 20 years. Family members tell us they're devastated by what happened.
Investigators are now checking surveillance cameras and conducting interviews in hopes of figuring what caused the fire. In the meantime, the market is still partially open.