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Fire guts house during storm

Three teenage girls and two dogs escape the fire, which may have been caused by lightning.

By CHRIS TISCH and JAY PITTS
Published July 23, 2003

CLEARWATER - A fire that started during a fierce thunderstorm tore through a Clearwater home Tuesday afternoon.

Three teenage girls, who were inside the house at 2890 Sea Pines Circle W when the fire started, escaped unharmed.

Devin Chigos, 13, and two friends, Lindsay Olenik, 14, and Chelsea Brockman went to investigate when the power suddenly went out, fire officials said. They found the garage filling with smoke. They grabbed the family's two dogs and ran out of the house, yelling that it was on fire.

Outside, Robert Ball, the owner of a lawn maintenance company working in the yard, called 911.

Ball said a neighbor came running over with a fire extinguisher. Ball took it and ran into garage, where the power panel was spitting out sparks.

He sprayed it, and thought he had knocked the fire down, but apparently the fire had already spread inside the walls.

"Little by little it took over the whole house," said Ball, owner of Estate Land Services in Clearwater.

Within six minutes of the call, firefighters arrived.

They encountered flames and heavy smoke, said Jim Fogarty, division chief for Clearwater Fire Department.

Fire crews fought that blaze while others searched the house. In all, 18 fire trucks from Safety Harbor, Palm Harbor, Dunedin and Clearwater were called to the scene.

But the fire was stubborn and quick, said Fogarty.

It spread into the roof and raced throughout the rest of the house.

Soon, orange flames ripped through the roof.

No damage estimate for the home was available Tuesday, but Fogarty described it as substantial. County property records show the home, valued at $178,700, is owned by John Chigos. Officials said he shares the home with his wife, Kathleen Chigos, and his daughter.

Firefighters remained on the scene Tuesday evening looking for hot spots.

No fire cause had been established.

"It certainly sounds like it might be lightning related," but it's still too early to tell, said Fogarty.

Neither neighbors nor the lawn crew said they heard any loud thunderclap before the fire.

The family went to a neighbor's house.

- Times staff writer Jennifer Farrell contributed to this report.

[Last modified July 23, 2003, 01:18:16]


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