POMPANO BEACH, FLA. (WSVN) - Authorities are investigating a fire that ripped through a high-rise in Pompano Beach, which left an elderly man dead and sent seven people to the hospital.
Crews from multiple agencies responded to the four-alarm fire at the Intracoastal Tower, located near 15th Street and North Riverside Drive, just after 1:15 a.m., Tuesday.
Upon their arrival, crews saw flames shooting from the window and balcony of a unit on the seventh floor.
“Flames like pouring out of the window and smoke out of the hallways,” said resident Amber Webb. “On the fifth floor there was even smoke there, and it was pretty scary.”
The elderly woman who lived in Unit 707, where the fire originated, told firefighters she walked out of her bathroom to find her apartment in flames.
“Fire crews advanced up to the seventh floor and had heavy fire conditions, to the point they were not able to get down the hallways because of the heat,” said Pompano Beach Fire Rescue Assistant Chief Michael Hohl.
“On the seventh floor, no one could get out. I was on my hands and knees crawling,” said Bill Snodgrass, who lives in the unit across from the one where the fire started.
“We were only a few feet from the elevator and the stairwell, but we couldn’t find it because it was so smoky,” said resident Joelle Coyle.
An 80-year-old man who lived four units down was found deceased in his apartment. He was later identified as Vincent Andretta.
“He was possibly on the phone in the bathroom, and he became trapped and died of smoke inhalation,” said Pompano Beach Fire Rescue spokesperson Sandra King.
Seven other people were transported to the hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation.
All residents in the 12-story building were evacuated. Some tenants were stuck in their balconies and had to wait to be brought down by a ladder truck.
“We couldn’t get out,” said Richard Markey. “We called 911. We were on the balcony for about an hour and 20 minutes.”
According to Pompano Beach Fire Chief John Jurgle, the apartment unit was completely gutted, but the fire was contained to the seventh floor. The flames did not reach Andretta’s apartment.
“It could have been a lot worse,” said resident Yolanda Anta. “Thank God we have good firewalls. Everything held up really well except for the seventh floor.”
“I think his sister lives, maybe, in the sixth floor,” said Snodgrass. “Other than that, I’d seen her up there occasionally taking care of him. I don’t know whether he’s an invalid or what, but I’d say hello to him, and that’s about it.”
Residents said a small action from the elderly woman during her escape from the burning unit may have saved lives.
“She got out of there safe. She probably, from what I gather, saved the building because she closed her door when she walked out the door, so it helped contain the fire,” said resident Richard Markey.
Officials said the building did not have sprinklers. “I do know that our fire marshal was working personally with this building and the management of this building,” said King. “In fact, they had a meeting this Wednesday to bring this building up to compliance, and they were working with us cooperatively.”
Officials said the fire caused several water pipes to burst, causing additional damage to the building.
Nearly 100 people have been displaced as a result. The American Red Cross is helping 35 of these residents.
Several residents were later able to go in and retrieve some belongings.
“Blessed that we’re alive,” said Coyle.
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