Washing machine caused Tampa condo fire that displaced 14 residents
The Tampa Tribune
By Keith Morelli
21 January 2016

A fire tore through a building of the Westchester Manor condominiums on N. Central Avenue in Tampa early Thursday.     Lance Rothstein/Staff

TAMPA — Jose Vazquez walked up to his sport-utility vehicle outside the Westchester Manor complex Thursday afternoon carrying an armload of shoes. He opened the door and dumped some water out of one of his dress shoes.

He was one of 14 people — seven families — displaced when a two-alarm fire tore through their building early Thursday morning,

He and his 22-year-old son, Miguel, were awakened by a knock on the door around 2 a.m. but thought the fire was small and they could soon get back inside and go back to bed.

But the fire found its way into the attic, and there, it had free rein to race along the rafters, spilling smoke into all the units.

“I don’t believe it,” Vazquez, 49, said, gesturing toward the building. In his vehicle was everything he could gather, as workers boarded up the windows and doors.

“We got the important stuff,” Miguel Vazquez said. “The Xbox, the flat screen TV; clothes.”

The younger Vazquez was headed to a cousin’s home, while his father was going to move in, temporarily, with his ex-wife.

The fire caused an estimated $450,000 damage to the building and an undisclosed amount to the contents within the apartments, said Tampa Fire Rescue spokesman Jason Penny. The cause was an electrical malfunction in a washing machine outside one of the units, he said. It was ruled accidental.

Firefighters responded just after 2 a.m. and found heavy smoke and flames coming from the roof of the two-story building at Westchester Manor, 9029 N. Central Ave. The complex is just west of Interstate 275 and south of Busch Boulevard.

More than 30 firefighters responded. Because of the size of the building and the intensity of the flames, firefighters called for a second alarm that brought additional units. They fought the flames defensively from the outside until they had the fire knocked down enough to enter the building safely, firefighters said.

The blaze was under control within an hour.

All 14 residents living in the eight-unit building escaped safely before firefighters arrived. One of the units was vacant. The American Red Cross was called to provide assistance.

“We were out there this morning to assist those clients,” said Craig Cuatt, spokesman for the American Red Cross of Tampa Bay. “We had a shelter on standby, but all the clients said they had places to stay.”

All will be lodging with family and friends until they can find permanent homes, he said.

The fire started in the outside laundry room of one of the occupied units, firefighters said, and caused extensive smoke and fire damage to that unit. Neighboring units and even some units in surrounding buildings sustained smoke damage, firefighters said.

No injuries were reported.

Jose Vazquez said he bought his condominium seven months ago. He was about to have it insured and was awaiting a home inspection when the fire forced him out. Still, he was upbeat about moving in with his ex-wife.

Was he hoping to rekindle a romance?

He just shrugged.

“I’m hoping,” he said with a wide grin.

Fire code standards in North America for were not as stringent in the past as they are now.

Before buying an older townhouse or stacked townhouse, have a house inspector verify that there are proper fire stops in the attics.

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