TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — One by one, they shared their stories, each with tears in her eyes – moms who were heartbroken. They were in shock. Their homes were gone. The presents they just purchased for their children – now charred pieces of wrapping paper and plastic.
As their eyes continued to well, they stared blankly at firefighters scurrying through smoke. They stood on the chilly sidewalk holding their children, babies with bare legs wrapped in donated blankets.
That’s how fast families had to get out of the Brookshire Townhomes at 1910 W. Sligh Avenue in Tampa. There wasn’t even time to put clothes or shoes on the children.
Their lives depended on seconds.
Devin Geary held her 3-month-old little one, Logan, close to her warm sweater. The tears began to fall as she explained what the afternoon was like.
“It could have been so much worse. Especially with a 3-month-old,” she cried. Then, she looked down at Logan and closed her eyes, shaking her head.
Another mom could barely get the words out as she shared her experience. Yoana Aneceto choked back sobs.
“I was working. A friend of mine and said, ‘our apartment is on fire,’ so I just came here to see this.”
After that, she could no longer speak.
They are hard-working moms and dads left overwhelmed, feeling an onslaught of emotions – a mixture of grief and gratitude. Their families are alive. But, they are also heartbroken that the holidays are here and this fire has taken everything they have.
One mom with three children and a newborn began crying as she explained how difficult the day had been.
“We literally just caught up on all of our bills, and we just went Christmas shopping Saturday,” she told us, her voice quivering with each word until the tears began to fall.
“My son has autism. He loves stuffed animals, and we just bought him new ones for Christmas. I’m sure they’re gone,” Peaches McIntyre cried.
“And, my baby needs a diaper right now. He’s sitting there and needs a diaper change.”
She was so overcome with emotion, she stopped speaking mid-sentence.
Her mother was standing nearby, helping comfort the children.
As Claudette Rensford shared her eyewitness account of the afternoon, she also broke down as she talked.
“It’s the holidays, and they lost everything. And, they have kids,” she explained.
Neighbors say it happened so quickly that their homes were gone in an instant. They grabbed their children and their pets and got out – fast.
One dad looked dazed as he stood near the chaotic fire scene. He held his shaking Chihuahua mix in a blanket.
“Devastating,” said Soloman Giffen. “I don’t even know what I’m going to do.”
Investigators from Tampa Fire Rescue are still trying to figure out what sparked this massive fire that spread rapidly when some families were still at work around 3:30.
Those who were home at the time became heroes, rushing door to door to get others out with seconds to spare before tall flames took over their homes filled with holiday presents and decorations.
“The whole building was on fire, so we just ran downstairs and tried to get them out as quick as possible,” said Manuel Simmons Jr.
In total, eight families lost everything. There are 28 people who are heartbroken during this holiday. Still, amidst heartache, there is hope.
New mom, Devin, told us, “Be thankful for what you have. Your family is really all that matters. All the stuff that’s inside your house, just forget about it.”
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