PALMETTO -- An intense inferno early Friday quickly consumed a Palmetto house -- and threatened a house across the street -- but no injuries were reported in the fire, officials said.
The blaze at a triplex on the northeast corner of Fourth Street West and Seventh Avenue West broke out just before 2 a.m., sending flames higher than a tall pine tree nearby, according to neighbor Veronica Zamora Garcia. She was awakened by what sounded like small explosions and the screams of a woman who lived in the burning house.
Two families who were in the house were able to escape unharmed.
The North River Fire District responded to the call of a fire with entrapment, according to Battalion Chief Donnie Bathje.
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"We arrived and this was a solid ball of fire," Bathje said.
Parts of the home had already begun to collapse, Bathje added, so he did not allow firefighters to enter the structure. It took about 45 minutes to get the flames under control and 1 1/2 hours to extinguish the fire.
The family in one of the three units had recently moved, which contributed to confusion that there may have been someone still inside the home.
"It took us about two hours of phone conversation to determine that," Bathje said.
The other two families had escaped before firefighters arrived.
Just down the street, Garcia said she could see the flames through her curtains and the heat could be felt from just outside her door. She quickly woke up her family, and her nephew called 911.
It was at least 10 minutes before the first fire trucks arrived, she said. At one point beforehand, the Manatee County Sheriff's Office helicopter flew overhead, she said.
Zamora Garcia said there was massive response by fire, police and ambulance units, witnessed by neighbors who took to the street to see what was happening.
Garcia's sister Matilde Zamora ran to the home across the street from their home and the blaze.
Judith Juevas was startled awake by the knocks.
"She told us, 'The house is on fire'," Juevas recalled in Spanish. "We got up and got out."
The family rushed out of their home, thinking it was their own home Zamora meant was on fire. Once they realized it wasn't, however, they were still concerned that their home would catch on fire.
"It was really hot," Juevas said.
The heat from the blaze was so intense that it burned the fiberglass siding off the front of their home. The family was outside when fire crews arrived, who shared concerns about the home igniting.
"Once we got water on it, it was OK," Bathje said.
It was unusual, given the distance of over 50 feet, for the home to have been affected, he added. Damage to neighboring homes, such as what happened Friday, more often occurs in mobile home parks.
Garcia and Zamora had also been concerned that the woman they heard screaming before fire crews arrived, had been stuck inside the burning home. Once outside, though, they finally spotted the woman who was now silent and trembling.
"She was in total shock," Zamora said in Spanish. "You would talk to her and she wouldn't answer."
The Red Cross arrived quickly to aid the two families displaced by the fire, according to Bathje. By about 4 a.m. they had already been taken to a hotel in Bradenton.
The home was a total loss and will eventually have to be torn down, officials said.
Eight hours later, firefighters from North River Fire District remained on the scene, putting out smoldering debris and investigating the possible cause of the fire.
One firefighter was evaluated for heat stress, Bathje said, but soon returned to duty.
While the cause of the fire was unknown and is under investigation, foul play was not expected. The state fire marshal will be assisting in the investigation.
Hours later, many neighbors remain shook up and were tired after a sleepless night.
"I haven't slept," Zamora Garcia said. "My sugar dropped and my blood pressure went up."
Jessica De Leon, Herald law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.