Investigation underway to determine cause of fire in Punta Gorda’s Emerald Pointe community

Published: March 31, 2022 2:54 PM EDT
Updated: April 2, 2022 12:59 PM EDT

After a massive fire in Punta Gorda, seven homes and a boat were destroyed. Flames and smoke shot into the sky from the Emerald Pointe community on Wednesday.

The fire quickly spread thanks to winds that gusted to 25-30 miles an hour.

MORE: Fire destroys 7 townhomes and a boat in Punta Gorda’s Emerald Pointe community

The City of Punta Gorda Fire Chief Ray Briggs said the fire is the largest residential structure fire he has faced in his 32 years as a firefighter.

Tashae White saw that thick cloud of black smoke on Wednesday. When White got closer, she saw these flames ripping through townhomes, leaving nothing behind but ashes. “It kind of engulfed the whole building, and there was just whooping pieces of black smoke, and it was just so hot and radiating around the area,” said White.

Fire Chief Briggs said his department responded to the call with many other fire crews and first responders. “There was a lot of resources to fireboats helicopter, lots of apparatus we had, again, just everybody pitching in for a good cause here,” said Briggs.

The state fire marshal said the cause of the fire is under investigation. Briggs said no matter how it started, the wind gusts made fighting the flames difficult.

When the fire was finally under control, seven townhomes had burned to the ground. Briggs said it could have been so much worse. “There was a little damage to a villa dock and deck area. So that really extraordinary efforts were made to keep it contained to the one building,” said Briggs.

Briggs said his team did an amazing job making sure no one got hurt. “I can’t emphasize enough the role that Charlotte County, city PD, and the sheriff’s office played in this would have had a much different outcome, I believe, without that help,” said Briggs.

“You can tell that they were just still working hard, but a little bit depressed that it got that bad. It was shocking. You never imagine to see something like one, a fire so big, but for it to start out with what was still big but not as huge as it grew to was just tragic,” said White.

The state fire marshal has not yet determined a cause for the fire. Chief Briggs said that it might take weeks to determine where and how the flames were sparked.

When the massive flames burned through the Punta Gorda community, Matt Olsen couldn’t help but watch.

“I had my kids with me and we ended up looking at this massive fireball coming about 10 to 15-feet above the top of the roof and then just watched it spread,” said Olson, who is staying in a condo nearby.

Chief Briggs said he called in just about every available crew in the city and in Charlotte County to fight the fire.

“I’m truly amazed, quite honestly, that we were able to mitigate the damage to the adjoining structures,” said Briggs.

Everyone got out alive and despite the danger, not one firefighter got hurt. One windy day later and they are still on the scene just in case. “It was what we call mop-up. And so they’re just kind of putting out some hidden fires, if you will, and hotspots,” said Briggs.

The focus now is on helping those who lost everything.

“It was so nice to see the people in the community rally around those who lost their homes and offering places to stay and trying to give everybody what they needed to get through the afternoon and through the night,” said Olson.

“I’ll give a shout out to Red Cross. Red Cross came through very early in this,” said Briggs.