Senior living resident helps neighbors escape fire, officials say

Polk County

LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) — A resident at a senior living community knocked on windows and doors to make sure her neighbors escaped a fire that spread through their apartment complex Monday morning.

Officials said the fire broke out at about 7:30 a.m. at Cecil Gober Villas, a 55+ community in the 2600 block of North Florida Avenue.

By Monday afternoon, fire investigators had determined the fire was electrical and accidental in nature.

It started in the bedroom of unit 21, according to Assistant Fire Chief Michael Williams.

“I got up and ran in the kitchen and then the whole building was on fire,” said Ruby Letthand.

Letthand was watching television Monday morning when a smoke alarm alerted her to the fire.

She escaped through thick smoke.

“The whole building was just smoke inside. I couldn’t hardly see nothing. I managed to get out,” said Letthand. “I was just praying that the fire wouldn’t get on me. As I was coming out, some of the loft start falling down in front of me.”

As she struggled to quickly move out of her apartment, she was greeted by Gloria Rivera, a neighbor who had called 911 and ran over to help.

“I saw this old lady. I helped her come out. She was having a hard time walking so I took her with my hand,” said Rivera. “Knocking on the windows to see if anyone was in there. It’s very scary situation.”

No one was hurt, but four people are displaced, officials said.

Letthand’s was one of two units destroyed by the fire. Two adjacent units sustained smoke and water damage.

“I think the residents here are actually very lucky. To have the fire actually progress so much that it’s actually burned through the roof when we arrived, to know the resident just escaped that on their own that’s pretty remarkable,” said Asst. Fire Chief Michael Williams, Lakeland Fire Department.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

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