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Date of Issue: February 22, 2007

Fire damages Westbay Point condominium

fire pic
Firefighters ready to enter a ground-level condominium unit at Westbay Point & Moorings Feb. 15. A fire that apparently started in the bedroom caused about $50,000 in damages. Islander Photos: Lisa Neff
fire pic
Condominium owner Jane B. Smith looks for personal belongings to rescue from her bedroom the day after the fire.

Fire and smoke caused about $50,000 in damages to a condominium at Westbay Point & Moorings in Holmes Beach Feb. 15.

No injuries were reported, according to Capt. Tom Sousa, of the West Manatee Fire Rescue District.

Four occupants, as well as a cat, in the ground-floor residence at 6200 Flotilla Drive escaped safely, as did the occupants of the five other condominiums in the building.

The fire began shortly after 6 p.m. in the bedroom of condo unit 242, owned by Jane B. Smith. Sousa said the cause of the fire remained under investigation by WMFR officials and the state fire marshal's office.

Smith, her son Chris Murray and two children, Jacob and Taylor Beal, were in the home when the smoke alarm went off.

"I have no idea what happened," said Smith, who has lived in the condo for about six years. "I don't smoke. I haven't a clue what would have caused it."

Smith said she was preparing to go to a movie theater. "I went to the bedroom to get some clothing. All of a sudden the fire alarm started going off. The bed was on fire. The carpet was on fire."

Smith said her first reaction was to pour water on the fire, which didn't extinguish the flames. She called 911 and reported "heavy smoke and fire." The dispatcher, Smith said, told her, "Get out."

Taylor Beal, 11, was watching television in the condominium when the alarm sounded. "We all just ran," she said. "We all ran really fast."

In the condominium directly upstairs, Gloria and Arthur Doudera smelled and saw the smoke.

"We were getting ready to have supper," said Arthur Doudera. "And then, good God, there was smoke, smoke and smoke."

They too evacuated and through much of the chilly night stood outside the building watching firefighters work.

"They don't want us to go back in and look around," Doudera said, after the flames had been extinguished. He was thinking about the dinner — a pot of stew — left on the stove. But the building was not yet completely checked by firefighters.

Another neighbor said she smelled smoke, then heard an alarm.

"I was petrified," she said, then added "for a moment." She said she grabbed her purse and told her husband to hurry and grab his wallet, and they quickly evacuated their unit adjacent to Smith's.

Not far from Westbay at the time the fire began, WMFR commissioners were holding their monthly board meeting with department officials at Station No. 1, 6001 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach.

The commissioners had just listened to a presentation from Battalion Chief Barry Brooks, firefighter Carlo Valente and Anna Maria architect Gene Aubry on a proposed memorial to the firefighters who responded to the call in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001. (See separate story this week.)

The commission meeting quickly ended after the call came into Station No. 1 that a structure fire was reported at Westbay. Brooks, Valente and Chief Andy Price rushed out and soon after commissioners adjourned the meeting.

Smith called 911 at 6:10 p.m., according to Sousa. He said the first engine arrived to Westbay at 6:11 p.m., followed quickly by additional firefighters, Holmes Beach Police Department officers, Manatee County Sheriff's Office deputies and Manatee County medical aid.

WMFR received assistance from Cedar Hammock Fire Rescue at the scene and Longboat Key firefighters provided backup at Station No. 1.

Twenty-two firefighters helped extinguish the fire, which was out by 6:27 p.m., said Sousa.

Bystanders and emergency personnel remained at the scene long after.

Neighbors, realizing that most damage had been contained to the single residence, said they were thankful for the concrete barriers separating the three upstairs and two additional downstairs units.

Smith's son, Chris Murray, watched the scene from a grassy area across the parking lot from the smoking building, leaning on an American flag pole. He had been inside when the fire started and said they had just ordered pizza delivery.

Murray, like his mother, said he had no idea how the fire started. "We weren't even cooking," he said.

"We're gonna need help," Murray added. "My mom and I, and I have two kids. We're gonna need help."

Neighbors did help neighbors, offering shelter in cars and condominiums, serving coffee at the clubhouse at nearby Shell Point, sharing coats, caps, even shoes for the night.

"Everyone's so helpful," Smith said. "I'm thankful."

By the end of the night, Smith and her family had a place to stay overnight at the complex with Christine Porter and the other occupants of the building were allowed to return to their homes.

The morning after the fire, a crew from Westbay worked at 6200 Flotilla Drive, repairing landscape damaged by water, equipment and foot-traffic and securing the building, which management said remained structurally sound.

Two women, who on a typical morning would have cleaned unit 242, stood outside, looking at the charred exterior and piled clothing and debris on the porch. The work, they agreed, involved far more than a housecleaning.

Later, Smith and her family, who found an apartment to rent temporarily in Bradenton Beach, returned to the condominium to look for personal possessions to rescue and begin making arrangements for restoration.

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