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Florida Keys--Two Families Displaced in Seperate Fires

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  • captstanm1
    Ft. Myers Fla--ARSON Fire destroys Homeless Coalition Offices

    Homeless Coalition back in operation

    Less than 24 hours after an apparent arson fire destroyed its offices, the Homeless Coalition was ready to feed the needy Monday night.

    Volunteers clustered around a mobile kitchen van on loan from the Salvation Army. It was parked outside the Genesis Center, the coalition's former office at 3880 Tamiami Trail. On the menu was "American chop suey" (otherwise known as noodles with hamburger), corn, cookies, granola bars and water or coffee.

    All that was missing were the homeless. If they heard about the fire, they may not have realized that Lighthouse Outreach, an Adventist-sponsored element of the coalition, is still serving dinner.

    "It's a little less than what we do naturally," said Donna Dunbar, who organizes the meal program with her husband, Clarence. "Hopefully, everyone was told; we're here to come through for them."

    A coalition caseworker was beating the bushes, trying to get the word out that dinner was being served.

    The Dunbars were heartened when Dr. David Klein with the Harry Chapin Food Bank in Fort Myers announced that it would replace a month's worth of food lost in the fire. The Islamic Center of Southwest Florida will be cooking for Lighthouse until it's resettled, and seven other area churches are helping out, Dunbar said.

    On Monday night, Edith Colon was sitting behind a table stacked high with Styrofoam boxes of dinner, waiting for hungry clients. The 88-year-old Port Charlotte woman has frequently dined with Lighthouse since her husband died almost two years ago.

    "It must have been somebody deranged, to indulge in something like this," Colon speculated. "Somebody holding a grudge who figured 'I'll get even if I don't get the help I wanted."

    Because the building's steel front door was open when the fire was spotted, Colon voiced suspicions that the burglary and fire were an "inside job."

    Earlier in the day, Rexford Koch, the coalition's president, tried to cope with the phone calls flooding his Punta Gorda office, offering all kinds of aid.

    "It's a madhouse here," Koch said. Three coalition volunteers answered the phones while others sorted through singed files outside, so the smoky odor wouldn't cling in Koch's offices.

    "This is the only way our clients can get their mail," volunteer Meredith Degenhardt explained, sorting through some crispy envelopes.

    Whoever set the fire stole four computers and several other pieces of office hardware -- including a video security system -- before pouring gasoline in the offices and igniting it. They left the gas can inside, by the back door.

    Ana Romillo, the coalition's executive director, said the security system was aimed inward and intended primarily to protect the employees and volunteers from an unruly client.

    Romillo recalled that when she heard of the fire shortly after midnight, she rushed out of her house, forgetting her cell phone and purse, too upset to drive.

    "The fire damage was 20 times worse than the burglary," said Scott Bucanan, a member of the coalition's board of directors. He estimated the theft at about $3,100. Damages to the building run into the tens of thousands of dollars.

    "We're following several leads at the moment," said Lt. Tammy White with the State Fire Marshal's Office. "We're not excluding any possible scenario yet."

    White said suspects were being interviewed to establish a time line and determine who was in the building when.

    "I would hope by Wednesday or Thursday we'll have more information, but in these cases it's so hard to tell," White said. "Arson is difficult to work and time-consuming."

    Meanwhile, Dunbar was looking on the positive side.

    "This is just another bump in the road," she said. "God is showing us blessings. In tragedy, the community is rallying to help us."

    You can e-mail Malcolm Brenner at [email protected]


    Staff Writer

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  • captstanm1
    Fire destroys second mobile home in two days


    SUMMERLAND KEY -- For the second time in as many days, a Monroe County family has lost a mobile home to fire.

    According to Fire Chief Clark Martin, an electrical fire consumed a trailer in Lot 13 of the Summerland Palms Trailer Park at 24863 Overseas Highway on Summerland Key.

    Units from the Monroe County, Big Pine, Cudjoe Key and Sugarloaf Fire Departments responded at 5:22 a.m. to the blaze. They arrived to find the trailer engulfed in flames, with two adjacent trailers in imminent danger.

    Firefighters were able to knock down the fire before it reached the other trailers. The affected trailer suffered an estimated $45,000 in damages and the family of four -- which includes two children and a mother-to-be who is seven months pregnant -- is displaced.

    "It was virtually a total loss," Martin said.

    The fire has been deemed accidental and no injuries were reported. The Red Cross, working in conjunction with Catholic Charities and the Salvation Army, is assisting the victims with necessities.

    It is the second fire reported in the Lower Keys area since Wednesday, when an early-morning blaze claimed a mobile home on Helen Ave. on Little Torch Key. A couple that includes a woman who is eight months pregnant was displaced by that fire. They are also being assisted by volunteers from the Red Cross.

    Investigators are still looking into the cause of that fire, but it initially appeared to be accidental, Martin said.

    This story published on Fri, Jul 18, 2003

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  • Florida Keys--Two Families Displaced in Seperate Fires

    Two homes burn, displace families
    By Scott Fusaro [email protected]

    Two pregnant women watched their homes burn as a pair of trailers in the Lower Keys burned in early morning hours a day apart this week.

    The first fire occurred on Helen Avenue on Little Torch Key at 5:15 a.m. Wednesday, followed by another Thursday at 5:25 a.m. at the Summerland Trailer Park on Summerland Key, according to county Fire Marshal Bill Surina.

    The families were displaced. Information on assistance they are receiving was not immediately available.

    Surina said that due to the nature of the homes, "the type of structure allowed [the fires] to burn very, very quickly," said Surina.

    Both fires likely were caused by electrical problems, said Surina.

    In the Wednesday fire, "The owner awoke to the smell of smoke, got his wife up – who was eight months pregnant – got her out of the house," Surina said.

    He did not identify the victims. Fourteen firefighters in six vehicles from Big Pine, Sugarloaf and Big Coppitt keys responded, he said.

    The next day, George Lennon awoke to smell of smoke, and in another room, saw a portion of wall on fire, Surina said. Lennon woke his seven-months-pregnant wife Suzanna and they escaped, said Surina.

    He said both trailers were "complete and total loss[es]," with damages of about $125,000 and $45,000, respectively.

    Tuesday, the Montego Bay restaurant on Big Pine Key burned. The cause of that fire is undetermined, he said, and will likely remain so "unless some other extracurricular evidence develops, but that is very unlikely."

    Surina said there was no connection between any of the fires.

    "People start to ask when you have a lot of fires in a short period of time, and bottom line is there’s no connection between any of them," he said.

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