Miami-Dade County

They had their gifts wrapped and ready under the tree. Then a fire wiped them out.

Fire displaces residents of a North Miami condo

A fire at a North Miami condominium left dozens displaced five days before Christmas. The fire spread quickly through a shared attic in the roof of the building on Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017.
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A fire at a North Miami condominium left dozens displaced five days before Christmas. The fire spread quickly through a shared attic in the roof of the building on Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017.

Christine Tunidor was at work when she got the call that her apartment building was on fire.

“My heart fell into my stomach,” she said, as she wiped away tears on Wednesday afternoon.

As she headed toward her Northeast Miami-Dade apartment, several thoughts raced through her mind.

Where will she and her disabled husband go? Would she lose all of the Christmas presents she had bought early and arranged under the tree? How could something like this happen?

When she arrived, all she could see were fire trucks surrounding the two-story apartment building at 18975 NE Second Ave. She smelled the acrid smoke and saw her neighbors on the street.

“I don’t have the money to get a place,” said Tunidor, who has lived in the apartment for about a year. “When you live paycheck to paycheck, something like this is devastating.”

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue was called to the building just before 1 p.m. The three-alarm blaze took about an hour to extinguish, requiring more than 30 rescue units.

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Miami-Dade firefighters work a three-alarm fire in the 18600 block of Northeast Second Avenue on Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017, where an apartment fire spread throughout the complex. No one was injured. C.M. GUERRERO. cmguerrero@miamiherald.com

Video footage showed thick flames and billowing smoke pushing through the roof.

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Lt. Felipe Lay said the challenge was that the fire began in a second-floor unit and went through the roof. There is a shared attic in the roof, which allowed the fire to spread quickly. It was not clear Wednesday what caused the fire.

“This was a very challenging fire,” Lay said.

Everyone in the building was evacuated, and no one was hurt, Lay said. But the building was severely damaged. Crews remained on hand for hours watching for hot spots. The charred roof could be seen from the street.

By Wednesday afternoon, officials said it could be a long time before anyone could return to their homes. Residents like Johnniemae Fudge were left to figure out where they would go.

“There’s no words,” said Fudge, who was watching a soap opera in her first-floor unit when she noticed a commotion outside. “We don’t have anywhere to go.”

The American Red Cross tried to help those who were displaced.

Everyone was loaded onto a Miami-Dade Transit bus while the American Red Cross worked to get everyone’s contact information and come up with some help. By Wednesday afternoon, it wasn’t clear how many people were in need.

Marlene Perez was among those displaced. She said she was at work when she got a call that her apartment was on fire.

Her unit is on the second floor, so she is concerned she will lose everything. The most heartbreaking loss, she said, would be photos of her parents.

“You can’t get pictures back,” she said.

David J. Neal: 305-376-3559, @DavidJNeal

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