PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — Oxalis Garcia’s home in the Shore Acres neighborhood of St. Petersburg burned for nearly eight hours and firefighters were unable to do anything as the neighborhood was still flooded Wednesday afternoon.
“We are grateful that we heeded the warnings and evacuated,” Garcia said.
Garcia said she expects flooding from the storm surge from Hurricane Idalia.
“What we didn’t anticipate was that the storm surge would start a fire that prevented firefighters from putting it out,” she said.
Around noon on Wednesday, she said she received a frantic call from a neighbor who alerted her that her house was on fire. After driving back, Garcia said she waded through waist-deep water to get to her home, where she had lived for eight years.
“I saw flames erupting from the roof, roof and structure and everything just fell down,” Garcia said.
The cleanup to Idalia is underway across Pinellas County.
“This particular home was flooded 25 centimeters high,” said Luis Camacho of Bella Costa Designs.
He said his staff had to be extra careful when removing destroyed floors from flooded houses in Madeira Beach.
“Often when the water comes together with the electricity, it becomes a hazard and there are sparks, and then of course there’s a fire, and I’ve seen quite a few of those,” Camacho said.
One of these house fires happened directly across from Bayshore Drive.
Jason Acuna shot video of the episodes from his kayak.
“There’s a guy standing in waist-deep water trying to put out the fire, but with the electrics, they obviously said let it go, it’s too far away anyway,” Acuna said.
Back in St. Petersburg, Garcia said it was unsafe to enter her home. She said she wanted to look for pots and pans that belonged to her late grandmother, but it breaks her heart knowing many family photos and memorabilia were lost in the fire.
“We are grateful to be alive,” she said. “We’re grateful we’re safe and we’re grateful a lot of the things can be replaced, but we’re devastated by the things we’ll never get back.”
The St. Petersburg Fire Department shares some post-hurricane electrical safety tips:
- Contact a licensed electrician if you suspect damage
- Do not enter a flooded home unless you are sure the power is off
- Homeowners should check the wiring, outlets, and electrical appliances for damage
- Never touch wet electronic devices – it could be a deadly combination