Brush fire threatened New Tampa homes

Published March 22, 2006

TAMPA - Sam Ali stood in his back yard Wednesday afternoon, staring toward flames that rose dozens of feet into the air and wondering if they would engulf his home on Sweet Jasmine Drive, which he shares with his son, daughter, daughter-in-law and two young grandchildren.

"I was scared," the 49-year-old electrician said. "It was getting humongous."

Firefighters backed a ladder truck near his driveway and doused the brush fire before it reached a row of homes in the Misty Creek subdivision of New Tampa.

Officials said the fire began about 1:30 p.m. in an area of dry scrub grass and undergrowth next to St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church, on Cross Creek Boulevard. About 40 firefighters from Tampa Fire Rescue, Hillborough County Fire Rescue and the Temple Terrace Fire Department joined forces to put out the blaze.

They finally brought the fire under control after about an hour and a half, said TFR Capt. Bill Wade, but not before the flames crept within 100 feet of several nearby residences. Two firefighters were treated on the scene for minor heat exhaustion.

The fire burned an estimated 7 to 10 acres of brush. The exact source of the fire remained unknown Wednesday afternoon, but officials said four young people were seen leaving the field just prior to the fire being reported, and an investigator from the Tampa Fire Marshal's Office called the incident suspicious.

Still, Wade said the situation was a "direct example" of how easily a brush fire can spread under the current warm, dry, windy conditions.

He pointed to a nearby patch of brown, dry scrub grass.

"Any little spark can quickly grow into a big flame," Wade said.

He urged residents to avoid outdoor burning, not to drive all-terrain vehicles through areas of dry brush and not to let children play outside with matches or anything else that causes sparks. Even a cigarette thrown out a car window, he said, could ignite a massive fire.

In the Misty Creek subdivision, some residents on Wednesday had prepared to defend their homes as best they could. They grabbed hoses and got ready to spray.

"The residents' garden hoses were going to be no match for this fire," Wade said.

Sam Ali felt relieved that it hadn't come to that, and that the flames had spared him and his neighbors.

"I feel I could have handled a hurricane, but not a fire," he said. "Thank God for the fire service."