The Tivoli fire that left at least 75 residents temporarily homeless was most likely an accident, State Fire Marshal officials announced Monday.
Engulfing most of the third floor, the incident was deemed a three-alarm fire soon after firefighters arrived on the scene Sunday. Sixty firefighters from Seminole County, Casselberry and Oviedo departments spent hours working to extinguish the flames.
"There is not a serial arsonist running around setting fires. We are probably leaning toward accidental cause," a State Fire Marshall official said Monday during a meeting at the apartment's clubhouse. He added that the firemen are about done with their scene investigation as they cannot get into the building to determine the exact cause.
Due to the instability of the structure, residents were told they may never be able to re-enter their homes again. At this point, SCFD will not be making re-entry due to structural safety.
Although the fire left an estimated 25 students without homes, no residents were hurt. Two firemen were transported to the hospital for heat exposure.
The thousands of gallons of water used to extinguish the flames have made the dry wall unstable and put the ceiling at risk of collapsing, according to information provided by Paula Thompson, SCFD public information officer.
SCFD released the property back over to the Property Management Office Monday afternoon when the building was secured, and barriers have been placed around the buildings. Officials said security will guard the barrier as long as necessary.
For previous Tivoli residents, the fire is all too familiar. On June 9, 2007, a building in the same complex caught fire, also for an unknown cause. Only the third floor of the building suffered fire damage, but the first and second floors suffered water damage — similar to the destruction Sunday.
The recent fire was initially called in as a one-alarm fire, but Thompson said once SCFD arrived at the scene, it quickly turned into a three-alarm fire, just as it did eight years ago.
Makenzie Cox, a senior nursing major, called the police when she spotted the fire.
"I decided to take our dog for a walk, and I started smelling what smelled like fireworks," she said. "But then I hear the smoke alarm going off, so then I start walking around the building … that's when I saw the third-floor balcony on fire."
Within two minutes of calling the police, Cox said the entire balcony was on fire, heading into the roof.
Before the fire department arrived, Cox and another resident went into the building and started banging on the doors, telling people to get out. It took SCFD about 10 minutes to get to the scene.
Resident and junior business major Ryan Lohr watched as him home went up in flames.
"I got out of the pool today and I had 12 missed calls. The next thing I knew, apparently my apartment was on fire," he said.
Frantically pacing around the scene, Lohr was unable to focus on anything but his cat left inside his room.
"We had a cat inside, and hopefully she's OK. Not to mention our belongings, but obviously the cat is a little more important," he said. "You can only hope for the best in this type of situation, be optimistic."
Hunter Caulder, a junior sports journalism major, stood wide eyed as he watched his belongings deteriorate from the adjacent building. He was able to run back to his room and grab his laptop before officials told him to evacuate.
Rachel Stuart is the News Editor for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @RachSage or email her at RachelS@CentralFloridaFuture.com.
Johnathan Kuntz is a Contributing Writer for the Central Florida Future.