Flames light up the night sky as a fire started by an oily rag in
can in the garage destroyed the home of Kent and Pa Davis in Holmes Beach.
HOLMES BEACH – "I’m shocked; I don’t believe it happened," Pa Davis said sadly after an early morning fire destroyed the home of her and her husband, Kent, at 519 58th St. on Thursday.
Pa said she and Kent were awakened by smoke alarms sometime after 2 a.m. and smoke was coming into the house from the garage.
"I don’t know how long it was burning," she said. "I could hardly see anything. You just run for your life. We got out the front door. It was pitch black from the smoke and wind.
"We knocked on the neighbors’ doors. I dialed 911 and handed the phone to my neighbor to talk because I didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t even remember my address."
She said if they hadn’t left the sliding glass door open in the back of the house, they might have died from smoke inhalation. Another plus was that the home’s smoke detectors were interconnected, so when one went off, they all went off.
"We got the alarm at 2:22 and the first engine was out at 2:23," Deputy Fire Marshal Kurt Lathrop, of West Manatee Fire Rescue, said. "The roof and garage were completely involved, and when the fire made entrance into the attic, the high winds off the water pushed it through the attic.
"Once that happened, we went on the defensive mode and didn’t allow any firefighters inside, so they wouldn’t be put at risk, and we worked to save the houses next door."
A total of five units from all three West Manatee stations and Longboat Key responded. Lathrop said the closest hydrants are at the nearby Catcher’s Marina and city hall.
"We laid 1,300 feet of 5-inch hose," he said. "We try to have a hydrant every 800 feet but you can’t put one on less than a 6-inch waterline. A lot of the lines on the side roads are 2 to 4 inches."
A propane tank at the side of the house also exploded during the fire. The fire was extinguished by 3:56 a.m.
"At this point, it appears to be accidental," Lathrop noted. "The owner treated a piece of furniture with linseed oil and put the oily rag in the trash can in the garage. If you put something like that in a confined space, it will become hot enough to ignite.
"I’ve been investigating this since 6 a.m. it’s like a big puzzle. The firefighters are my eyes and ears and based on what they tell me and the homeowner says, it helps me put the puzzle together."
"We lost everything except some jewelry and our passports that were in a safe," Pa said. "One of the firemen (Fire Inspector Jim Davis) found my wedding ring that I had put on a table beside the bed. It was washed into a corner.
"There’s a saying in Thailand that if you are robbed 100 times, it is not as bad as being burned out of your house. I don’t know the last time a disaster like this has happened in Holmes Beach."
The couple lost their antique collection, including priceless, irreplaceable antique books, she said, and Kent lost his computer on which he was writing a book about Southeast Asia.
‘We want to thank our neighbors that stayed with us all night," she said. "We just want to get ourselves together, file the insurance and see how it goes. It has worn me out, but it’s lucky that no one got hurt."