Neighbors help others escape overnight apartment fire

- An early-morning fire ripped through a north Tampa apartment complex Thursday, leaving dozens of people without homes.

Tampa Fire Rescue said the fire started at a little before 3 a.m. in a second floor unit of the Palencia Apartments in Carrollwood.

Flames raced through a three-story building, causing extensive fire, water and smoke damage.

"I've never been in one of these kinds of situations before, so I'm still in total shock," said Jacqueline Brubaker, who lived on the third floor.

Brubaker and her boyfriend, Patrick Nalley, were among the first to see the flames.

"She was about to go to bed and I was watching TV, and she just ran back in the living room saying, 'there's a fire outside!'" Nalley said.

He and Brubaker said they knew most people were probably asleep, so they went door to door, trying to wake everyone up.

"I woke up and I heard some screaming. And it was really scary, it was like blood-curdling screaming," said MaryEllen Wansor.

Those screams were coming from Brubaker.

Wansor and her friend, Debbie Erb, said Brubaker is a big reason everyone made it out safely, including a 94-year-old man.

"You don't know how many lives she saved by knocking on the doors and letting people know that there was a fire," Erb said "I'm all about random acts of kindness. There's absolutely not enough of it and this young lady did that. She needs to be an everyday hero."

By the time everyone made it out, the fire became an inferno.

Twenty-four units were evacuated and as many as 48 people were impacted.

"Very surreal how quickly a fire can just go. You turn around and everything was on fire," said Brubaker, who was able to salvage a few items from her purse. "I just thank Gd that everybody is okay. That's the main thing, that we didn't lose anybody."

"I'm just so happy that we got out of there when we did because it went up in a matter of minutes. By the time we got downstairs, it was just everything engulfed in flames," added Nalley. "Everything is pretty much gone. For the most part. It looked maybe you could salvage a couple of things but pretty much everything is just burnt to a crisp."

The Red Cross is assisting the affected residents.

The cause of the fire is under investigation, although firefighters aren't sure they'll be able to determine what sparked the flames because the apartment where it started is so badly damaged.

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