LIDO KEY - Residents of a beachfront Sarasota high rise are back home after being evacuated around 9am Tuesday morning. People living at the Lido Regency on Ben Franklin Drive were forced to leave after a fire broke out on the 12th floor.
It all led to some tense moments, as firefighters were exposed to chemicals inside one of the building's 85 units. And while police won't say for sure, it's suspected they stumbled on the makings of a meth lab.
“We were all asked to evacuate, which we have done. We have some elderly people in the building, but it went well and we got everyone evacuated,” says resident Patrick Williams. He’s lived at the condominium for the last 18 years. But Tuesday morning was the first time he's ever been greeted by firefighters, saying to get out -- fast.
24 units responded, and although the fire was contained to unit 12b, and no one was home at the time, Sarasota Police say the fire raises serious concerns and warrants a criminal investigation. “There was an acetylene tank that was found, and this is something that is used to make methamphetamine. So it's a good possibility that that is what was going on inside that apartment. The HAZMAT team and the fire department went in, and saw some things that would indicate that and informed us about that. So that's why we're conducting a criminal investigation right now,” says Sgt. Jim Deniro of the Sarasota Police Department.
If it does turn out that the condo unit was being used as a meth lab, Sgt. Deniro says it presents a very dangerous situation. He says the chemicals used to make methamphetamine are very volatile and dangerous, and even more so in a multi-unit building. “It's pretty unsuspecting to think that we would find that out here on Lido Beach in a condominium that's usually…the residents are usually senior citizens for the most part, and you wouldn't expect it out here. So it's something we have to keep our eye on for the future.”
Williams says he's shocked that a drug lab is even being suspected. “We have actually really nice people in the building. It's very hard to imagine that would happen here, but I guess it's possible.”
Sgt. Deniro had been inside the unit and said the damage was far more extensive than he thought it would be. However, the fire didn't spread to any other condos.
He says there is extensive water damage throughout the building from the sprinklers and the firefighters putting out the fire, crews are on scene assessing.
Sarasota Police say they're still working on locating the people who were renting that condo. Criminal charges are pending.
Seven firefighters were taken to the hospital for chemical exposure. They were all conscious and had trouble breathing.