FLORENCE — Takayuki Kashiwazaki was awakened Thursday morning by the smell of smoke filling his apartment at the corner of Hermitage Drive and Nellie Avenue.
The smoke billowing into the apartment was from a fire that started in a basement apartment of the five-unit building. Witnesses at the scene said the resident who lived in the basement apartment was not at home at the time.
Kashiwazaki lives with a roommate in the second floor of the house that was converted into apartments years ago.
“We were asleep in the bedrooms and started smelling smoke,” he said. “We just got out.”
Kashiwazaki said he started ringing door bells and knocking on the doors of the other apartments in the wood-frame house across the street from Appleby East and West residence halls at the University of North Alabama.
Florence firefighters were called to the residence just after 7 a.m.
“It was going pretty good when we got here,” Florence Fire Battalion Chief Ben Cochran said. “Our guys did a good job of attacking it and getting the fire under control quickly, and then getting it out.”
He said the fire started in the basement, but firefighters were able to stop it on the first floor.
“In these older houses like this one, they can go quickly because there are no fire stops built into the walls,” Cochran said. “So, they get into the attic quickly. Our guys did a good job of stopping it on the first floor and keeping it out of the attic.”
The chief said the house is more than 60 years old.
“In fact, when my mother and father moved to Florence in 1948, the first apartment they lived in was in that house,” he said.
It was Kashiwazaki’s knocking that woke Cara Depew, a UNA senior from Tupelo, Miss. Depew, who had lived in her unit for a year, said her apartment filled with smoke, but she did not see any damage to her possessions.
“When I woke up I could smell the smoke,” she said. “I got my cat and got out.”
Utilities to the apartment complex have been disconnected. Depew said she will likely spend the next few nights with her boyfriend while she figures out her housing options.
While all of the human residents of the complex are accounted for, Megan Call could not find her cat, Fritz.
The UNA sophomore from Florence said she was taking her niece to school when she was called about the fire.
“Everyone is safe,” Call said through tears about the cat she has owned for two years. “That’s good.”
UNA spokesman Josh Woods said the university, through the office of student affairs, has resources available to provide housing, food, replacement books or other services to students in emergency situations.
Students with those needs should call 256-765-4223.
The cause of the fire is under investigation by the Florence Fire Department.
Jennifer Edwards can be reached at 256-740-5754 or jennifer.edwards@TimesDaily.com.
Tom Smith can be reached at 256-740-5757 or tom.smith@TimesDaily.com.