TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Florida firefighters say a mother and her two children – ages 5 and 10 – were found dead inside of an apartment building that caught fire on Wednesday after the mother tried to rescue her children.
The Hillsborough County Fire Rescue responded to a fire at the Captiva Club Apartments in the 4500 block of Castaway Drive.
Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister said the mother had escaped her burning apartment with another adult, but returned to save her two children. All three perished in the fire.
“Is there any greater act of love than the one displayed by this mother today?” Chronister said, adding that it was too early to make any additional comments on the family, as next of kin has yet to be notified.
Carmela Ortiz was woken up by the smoke detectors in her second-floor apartment.
“We were in the hallway. She [the victim] turned back around to go back in her room. My daughter went into her room, ’cause her room is next to mine. I grabbed my dog and my pocketbook somehow. My daughter was in front of me and we were down the stairs,” she said.
That would be the last time Ortiz saw her friend of six years, but not the last time she tried saving her roommate.
“When I got downstairs, I ran back upstairs to open the door to call on her, and I was screaming for her and screaming for her. She wasn’t answering me. So I immediately ran down the stairs to my neighbor below and I woke them up,” said Ortiz.
In one final attempt, Ortiz went frantic realizing her friend never left the apartment.
“When I finally got down the stairs, I looked up and I realized that the door was closed. So that’s when I ran back upstairs. I kicked the door, but the heat was so hot. I couldn’t get in,” she said..
Left without a choice Ortiz ran to firefighters.
“I was just screaming because I know she didn’t come out behind me and when the fire department came, I immediately grabbed them and said, ‘there’s two kids up there,'” said Ortiz.
Chronister said the fire tore through eight units, displacing 12 people. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.
“This became quickly an extremely active scene. And again that’s why I can’t stress enough the actions by these firefighters and deputy sheriffs were nothing short of heroic to put their own lives in danger to rescue as many people as they did. I commend them,” Chronister said.
Joey Fernandez lives in the block of apartments adjacent from where the fire burned and wonders if more could have been done by both complex management and the firefighters to prevent the family’s untimely death. He says his dog woke him up when the fire broke out, so he stepped outside to film what was happening.
“The roommate came outside screaming, yelling at the fire department, telling them the mother and kids were inside,” Fernandez said. “They pretty much dismissed her, pushed her to the side.”
The management team for the Captiva Club apartments released this statement Wednesday night:
“We are deeply saddened by the tragic event that occurred early this morning at Captiva Club Apartments. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of the victims.
At this time, the Hillsborough Fire Department has not yet determined the cause of the fire, but we are working closely with the authorities to ensure a complete and thorough investigation of the incident.
In the meantime, the safety and security of our residents remain our top priority. Our property management team is working diligently to ensure safety in the rest of the property and relocate residents whose apartments were damaged, or deemed unlivable, as a result of the fire to other vacant units. In all, there were eight total units affected by the fire out of 345 total units within the complex. All further inquiries should be directed to the local authorities at this time.”