TOLEDO, OH (WTOL) - A veteran is now homeless and in the hospital after barely making it out of a burning building in central Toledo Wednesday morning.
The fire occurred on Palmwood Avenue near Collingwood Avenue around 2:30 a.m.
Crews say they arrived to find the building totally engulfed, with flames shooting out of the windows and roof of the building.
Homeless veteran Rex Davis says he and about seven other people were squatting inside the building when the fire started.
Davis said the blaze started when an ember from the fireplace caught a mattress on fire.
"I opened up the fireplace and something popped out and landed on the mattress and burned it up. I crawled out from the basement. I couldn't see," Davis said. "That was my home. That was my home."
Davis said he was able to get out of the building through the basement window.
"They ran out," Davis said of the other people in the building. "I stayed there trying to salvage anything."
Crews say the building will be torn down.
Now, Davis says he doesn't know what he's going to do.
"I got nowhere to go for emergency purposes. Nowhere. I just lost everything. All my clothes, everything. I got nothing more, nothing."
Davis was covered soot and bleeding from burns on his hands after escaping the fire. He was taken to the hospital for treatment.
Neighbors say the building has been the home of numerous squatters, something seeing upwards of 20 homeless people inside at a time.
"It's cold, man. I make due. I'm an ex-Marine. I got no other jacket but this hoodie I'm wearing right now. I'm homeless and disenfranchised. I got nowhere to go," Davis said.
With temperatures continuing to fall, firefighters know there may be homeless people living in vacant homes. Firefighters say they conduct searches inside burning vacant homes if the conditions are safe to see if there is anyone inside.
Cherry Street Mission Ministries say they have shelters available for those needing a warm and safe place to stay. However, some continue to choose vacant buildings instead due to the strict rules inside many shelters.
"Nearly 300 people stay with us every single day," said Cherry Street Mission CEO Dan Rogers. "And for what ever reason, they are making value decisions that are overriding personal decisions. So personally no, I don't want to be in a place where I have a lot of rules. But the value is the rules are far better then the risk of staying in an abandoned house.