Crime

About 60 displaced by fire at Miami Beach building

A Miami Beach firefighter reunites a ppet bird with a resident after a fire breaks out in the apartment complex 2814 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach, Friday, Sept. 12, 2014. All residents were evacuated.
A Miami Beach firefighter reunites a ppet bird with a resident after a fire breaks out in the apartment complex 2814 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach, Friday, Sept. 12, 2014. All residents were evacuated. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

The screams from outside awoke John Suarez before 5a.m.

He hopped out of bed in his third-floor apartment at 2814 Collins Avenue and opened the front door. Smoke billowed out from below as flames raged through four apartments.

“It was very scary,” he said. “It was coming from the back part of the first floor.”

Suarez was one of about 60 residents who were displaced Friday morning after a first-floor fire tore through part of an apartment building, leaving one man hospitalized with second-degree burns. Miami Beach officials suspect an arsonist is to blame.

The injured man, Juan Carlos Escobar, 36, was in stable condition at Jackson Memorial Hospital’s Ryder Trauma Center as of Friday afternoon. He suffered burns to about 40 percent of his body.

After the blaze was extinguished Friday morning, city code officials deemed the building, which is part of a two-building complex, unsafe. Miami Beach Police placed six families in nearby hotels early on. Red Cross officials worked to do the same throughout Friday.

Police were called to the building in the early morning hours for a burglary. When they arrived, flames spewed from a fire started outside the door of a first-floor apartment and the building was evacuated. Some residents said they heard a woman screaming unintelligibly in the hallway before the fire.

Police did not have a suspect Friday afternoon.

“This is an arson investigation,” said Miami Beach spokeswoman Julia Yarbough.

The manual fire alarm outside that apartment was working, but it is unclear if it was pulled. City authorities said the building owners had been told to fix another fire alarm in another part of the complex and were working with the city to address other code violations. On Friday, residents complained of constant visits from code enforcement in recent months.

City officials spoke to landlord Frank Ferarri about the incident and the condition of the building on the scene late Friday morning. He later told the Miami Herald he could not comment because of the pending arson investigation.

“Nothing I can repeat,” he said.

It is not known when residents will be able to return to their apartments. Authorities escorted people into the complex to grab belongings. The Triton Liquor Store and Air World Travel, two businesses across the street, gave displaced residents drinks and snacks as they waited for assistance.

T.J. Burkett commended firefighters for arriving quickly as he waited for Red Cross assistance with his boyfriend and his dog Beau.

“By the time we came out, the Fire Department was already pulling up,” he said.

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