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On Thursday, November 18th, Manatee County Commissioner Kevin VanOstenbridge held a press conference at the Aaron Lake Apartments to update the public on the assistance that is being provided to the 16 families impacted by the recent fire that ruined their homes.

“I was actually on a ride-along with the Manatee County Sheriff’s office that night and we responded to this fire.  So I can attest to some of the horrible things that I experienced that night by these families and to the bravery that we saw from one father and our first responders” said Van Ostenbridge.

He added details as he described some of the efforts being provided that night, “We had 16 families displaced.  It was a 4 alarm fire.  Cedar Hammock, City of Bradenton, West Manatee, and Southern Manatee fire departments as well as Manatee EMS all responded.  4 children were pediatric traumas and were flown to Tampa General. At one point in time, at a local park nearby, G.T. Bray Park, there were three helicopters landing on the soccer fields there and it was pretty moderate winds that night as well.”

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“When I arrived, there was about 30 feet of fire coming out of the second story of this building. It was fairly chaotic upon arrival.  Cedar Hammock Fire Department was just pulling up on the scene. There were people shouting that there were people including children and pets still inside of the burning buildings.  Cedar Hammock Fire Department acted heroically and immediately went straight into what was an inferno at the time.” 

Van Ostenbridge recognized the great work that night by all the first responders. “It was a chaotic scene however as first responders showed up, things calmed very quickly.  First responders were calm and deliberate in all of their actions and that was obvious, I think, to the residents and victims here, to really everyone that was around, that things were under control. They had the fire under control within an hour.  They immediately began evacuating people in a very systematic and calm way and they went right straight into the danger where it was and literally save lives.  I think everyone is just extremely grateful that they properly equipped and they reacted appropriately at that time.”

“I witnessed everything from CPR being performed to firemen literally running into burning buildings to save people.  One pet was lost but many were saved.  In the end, thanks for the heroics our first responders, and that father, and the grace of God no one died in this event.”

With the community’s support and with Van Ostenbridge organizing the GoFundMe to benefit the families directly affected by this fire, over 100 contributors have pitched in to raise $12,500 so far.  Van Ostenbridge is hoping to get to at least $16,000 by Monday, November 22, when the GoFundMe will close so the money can be distributed to the families before the holiday.  “They have medical bills, they have been displaced from their homes, and virtually all their possessions have been lost at this point.”

“It’s important to recognize first responders but this press conference is also to remind people that there is an aftermath of these families. The days and the weeks that follow don’t necessarily get easier for them, they have been displaced from their homes, they lost all their possessions, and to a certain extent, they have to start over.” 

Van Ostenbridge is hoping for more donations this weekend.  “This weekend is going to be the final push to raise money for the families. On Monday, I want to start distributing the money to the families in time for Thanksgiving.  I’m very happy that the community has come together so far and we’re hoping to make one last push for the families before the Thanksgiving holiday.”

“We have had members of the community reach out, Bayside Church, The Bridge Church, and several other churches have reached out to see what they can do.  I have a social worker assigned to this case to help these families and coordinate the relief effort.  American Red Cross stepped in right away to help, The Salvation Army stepped in to help, and Tidewell Hospice has offered counseling families as well.  And of course, the community.  Over 100 members of our community so far have donated financially.”

“We all know it’s a very difficult housing market and you can just walk up to an apartment complex and expect to move in within a few days.” Van Ostenbridge hopes these funds can help with this transition.  Affordable housing is a priority for the county.  “The county commission had a long discussion last night about the issue of affordable housing in Manatee County and in the entire state of Florida.  We are putting together are our state agenda packet before we go to Tallahassee and ask for money.  Inflation in the last year has hit housing particularly hard, especially in Manatee County.  We still have huge numbers of people moving to Florida, over a thousand people a day, at times it feels like half of them are moving to Manatee County.”

Contributions to the GoFundMe can be made here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/pu64c-help-bradenton-families-homeless-after-apt-fire

To schedule appointments, follow through on concerns, or obtain County information, you may contact Commissioner Van Ostenbridge’s assistant Jorge Arana by phone at (941) 745-3721 or email at jorge.arana@mymanatee.org.

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By Manatee Herald

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