KEY LARGO -- Getting water to a residential fire in a bayside neighborhood at mile marker 103 proved difficult for firefighters Sunday afternoonn as the blaze destroyed two unoccupied homes.
With wind gusts of more than 20 knots, the fire that started at 716 Garden State Lane around 1:45 p.m. quickly engulfed the two-story home.
According to fire officials, heat from the blaze destroyed a neighboring home and damaged several others.
The smoke from the fire could be seen by motorists traveling the Jewfish Creek Bridge.
The blaze was about 2,000 feet from a fire hydrant and special equipment was needed to pull water out of the canal.
Key Largo Fire Chief Sergio Garcia said it was difficult to get enough water pressure in the fire lines to attack the blaze.
While firefighters struggled on the street side, a good Samaritan worked from the canal.
Steve Powers, owner of Sea Tow Key Largo, was early to respond and began fighting the fire from the canal.
"They were having trouble getting the fire under control when we got there," Powers said. "The chief waved me over to help."
Powers said he had just recently installed firefighting equipment on his boat. The Key Largo Volunteer Fire-Rescue Department has a fire boat, but Key Largo Batallion Chief James Griffeth, who served as the incident's commander, did not immediately return phone calls explaining why that boat wasn't used.
However, Islamorada Fire Chief William Wagner III, who was on the scene, said afterwards that enough manpower wasn't available to get the boat to the fire in time.
Assisting Key Largo with the fire were units from Islamorada, Tavernier, Ocean Reef and Miami-Dade County. Garcia said it is rare, but units do come down from the mainland on occasion.
Garcia said the large five-department response was needed because many local trucks didn't include a fully-staffed crew.
"When we roll a truck, we may only have one or two guys," he said. "When Miami-Dade rolls a truck, they're rolling a full crew."
In addition to 70 emergency personnel, about 10 law enforcement secured the area by closing roads. A few homeowners and nearby residents complained that officers' behavior was too combative.
Sheriff's Deputy E.B. Askins was first on the scene and checked surrounding structures to make sure no one was inside.
None of the destroyed homes were occupied at the time of the fire. Though the residences were second homes, all of the owners responded to the scene. The fire was extinguished by 5 p.m.
Fire officials are investigating the incident and the cause is not yet known. Department leaders were expected to meet Monday, April 29, for a debriefing.