Winter Haven man helps evacuate building destroyed by fire, officials say

Polk County

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. (WFLA) – Fire officials credit a quick-thinking resident for preventing tragedy after a fire left more than a dozen people displaced in Polk County.

The electrical fire is believed to have started in a power strip in one of the top floor units Wednesday evening.

The building at 540 Ave. A NE in Winter Haven was previously a home that had been converted into individual apartment units.

Fourteen people lived there.

The person who lived in the unit where the fire originated wasn’t home at the time.

But when neighbors Christopher Klimczak and his fiance smelled smoke, Klimczak sprang into action.

Christopher Klimczak

“I just had to keep a clear mind and get everything together,” he said.

He tells 8 On Your Side he tried to extinguish the fire first but then realized his family needed to evacuate.

He was home with his fiance and two children, an infant and a 4-year old.

Klimczak went to work alerting the rest of the residents.

“Split decision – you either stay and don’t do anything and people might get hurt or you just take your loss and get everybody out,” said Klimczak.

“We are so thankful that he had a clear enough head to do this because the people on the lower level may not have learned about it had Chris not done what he did,” said Jamie Brown, public information officer with Winter Haven Fire Department.

No people were hurt. A dog was treated for smoke inhalation and her puppies were rescued by firefighters.

Klimczak was not able to salvage anything from the apartment.

Fire officials expect the building to be a total loss.

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