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Apartment building evacuated as fire breaks out in unit in east Gainesville
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A Gainesville firefighter carries a boy Monday. Dec. 9, 2019, as people are evacuated from a building at the Lanier Terrace Apartments following a fire one of the units. - photo by Scott Rogers

A fire broke out at a Lanier Terrace Apartments building on Summit Street just after 11 a.m. Monday, Dec. 9, sending several people to the hospital for evaluation.

There were no working smoke detectors in the apartment, according to a fire department official.

A front window to the bottom floor apartment in Building J was broken and a small flame was visible to a Times reporter at the scene. Thick, black smoke was coming out the back.

“They got it knocked down pretty quick, whatever it was,” said Gainesville Fire Department Division Chief Keith Smith. “It was just a lot of smoke.”

Residents of the apartment were sitting just outside near a shed, some with soot on their faces and feet, as smoke billowed out of the apartment windows Monday morning.

Seven occupants — four adults and three children — were taken to Northeast Georgia Medical Center for smoke inhalation and evaluation. Gainesville Fire spokesman Keith Smith said he was unsure of their statuses Monday afternoon.

Mateo Juan said he and the others in the apartment were sleeping when they smelled the smoke. He and the adults in the apartment gathered three small children and as much as they could and got out as fast as possible.

Lucia Smith, who lives in the apartment above the one that caught fire, said she heard her neighbor's window break, realized it was a fire, and ran down the stairs to get out.

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Mateo Juan, right, climbs back into his apartment, which is on fire, while police attempt to clear the building on Monday, Dec. 9, off of Jesse Jewell Parkway on the east side of Gainesville. - photo by Layne Saliba

A deputy witnessing the fire helped occupants out the apartment window.

As police were looking through the windows, checking to make sure everybody made it out of the apartment, Juan climbed back in to grab more of his belongings — a speaker and clothes.

Police quickly saw him and pulled him out through the window.

Maria Castillo, property manager at the apartments, was checking on construction at a nearby building when she saw the lights and smoke and walked over to see what was happening.

“He said they were sleeping and the kids just started screaming or something that there was a fire in the living room,” Castillo said. 

“The cause of the fire was combustibles too close to a space heater, and there were no working smoke alarms in the apartment,” Chief Smith wrote in an email. He said there was $40,000 in damage.

Reporter Nick Watson contributed to this report.