Eight families left homeless by Tampa townhome fire

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Just two weeks before Christmas, eight families are without a home due to a massive fire at a Tampa townhome community.

The fire ripped through Brookshire Townhomes off Sligh Avenue Monday afternoon.

According to investigators with Tampa Fire and Rescue, an electrical issue in an air conditioning system on a patio started the fire.

"I'm most grateful for my life, my kids. We ran out of the house. I didn't have shoes on. They didn't have on clothes," said Peaches McIntyre.

Within minutes of seeing thick black smoke, McIntyre's back patio was covered in flames. The fire spread across most of the eight-unit building from the patios to the roof, eventually spreading into some of the homes.

"We [were] running out the front door, knocking on all the doors, telling everybody to get out," said neighbor Annette Hearns.

Hearns, who recently had heart surgery, tried to fight the fire with a relative before it got out of control.

"He was using the fire extinguisher to try to put [the flames] out. I gave him two of them, but it didn't work," said Hearns.

By the time firefighters extinguished the blaze, most of the belongings in Hearns home were either burned or covered in smoke and water damage.

She said tearfully on Tuesday, "We've got nothing left. Everything is gone. I'm talking about everything is gone. Nothing, literally nothing is in there. It caught on fire just that fast."

Hearns' neighbor, Alex Diaz, spent Tuesday searching through his home for the few belongs that were not damaged.

Diaz purchased thousands of dollars worth of new furniture for his entire home from Kanes Furniture on Black Friday. All of it was destroyed.

"Right now we're trying to salvage the little bit we got and the clothes that we were able to get, but it looks like there's nothing," said Diaz.

He went back into his home after firefighters left to try to recover his stepson's Christmas presents and water-damaged game console.

Neighbor Johao Rios lost most of his furniture and nearly lost his cat as well, had fire rescuers not pulled him from the blaze.

"I'm very thankful for the firefighters who helped him," said Rios.

He, his father, and his cat are now in desperate need of a new home.

An Order to Vacate was posted on all eight doors. While some residents are staying in hotels courtesy of the Red Cross, others are living with family.

"I'm most hurt by being homeless. This is my first time ever being homeless, especially with four kids," explained McIntyre. "My son, Choice has autism. That's the hardest part. A child with autism has behavioral problems, so nobody really welcomes you at their home. That's the hardest part for me."

McIntyre and her family are currently staying wither her mother, who lives in a townhome in the same community in a building that was not damaged by the fire.

Peaches McIntyre's fiance owns a carwash, Wood Express Detail, located at 1817 West Sligh Avenue. She said despite her circumstances, she wants to earn money to get her family back on their feet.

"My fiance has his own car wash. If you want to get your cars washed, that would be great. We'd like to earn our own money, versus people just continuing to give to us," said McIntyre.

Anyone interested in donating furniture, household belongings, or Christmas gifts to the other residents can contact them through the descriptions listed below:

Annette Hearns is accepting donations via her church at Trinity CME Church, 2401 N Howard Ave, Tampa, FL 33607; Phone: (813) 253-2967.

Alex Diaz can be reached via phone at 813-455-7882.

Johao Rios can be reached via Facebook (search J.R. Rivers): https://www.facebook.com/johao.rios.5