TAMPA, Florida - Tampa Fire Rescue officials said it appears a rooming house that caught on fire and left at least five people without a home, was an illegal rental property.
The blaze broke out at the home at 1023 East 19th Avenue after 11 p.m. Tuesday. Fire officials said there were no working smoke detectors inside.
A woman who lived in the second-floor unit with her boyfriend and daughter, says her boyfriend woke up because he started choking on the smoke. He then woke everyone else up and they managed to make their way through a smoke-filled room, down the stairs, and outside.
"I was hysterical, screaming. I thought I was going to burn inside there," Mariline Castillos says through a translator.
Their screams woke up another renter, who also safely made it outside.
According to Tampa Fire Rescue officials, it took nine units and a half hour to get the blaze under control.
Milton Jenkins, the Fire Marshal with the City of Tampa, says if more than three people who are unrelated to each other are living in a residential structure, it's considered a rooming house. Since that seems to be the case here, it appears this house was rented illegally.
"At that point, then you have to have a smoke detectors, fire alarm system, and a sprinkler system. That's what the new code requires for rooming houses," says Jenkins.
With no working smoke detectors or anything else, Castillos knows just how lucky she, her family, and the other renters are.
"It's a miracle of God. It was not my day to die yet," Castillos says.
Fire investigators believe the cause of the fire was electrical in nature.