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Brush-fed blaze claims a home

The fire engulfed about 100 acres in Hillsborough County before it was controlled. Two people escaped.

By REBECCA CATALANELLO
Published April 15, 2006


RIVERVIEW - Donna Sonday's head was bowed over paperwork when she heard a roar that quickened her heart.

The 55-year-old lifted her gaze from the table to the window. Tearing through her lush, woodsy back yard was a fire that in minutes would devour the home she'd lived in for almost 30 years.

"I don't think I'll ever forget the sound of that fire," Sonday said as she stood hours later before the smoky remains of her family's trailer on their 4-acre property just off Greenland Drive, south of Rhodine Road.

A brush fire started about 3:15 p.m. and quickly spread to 100 acres, prompting emergency officials to evacuate 40 homes east of Greenland Drive.

The blaze raged for about three hours before it was under control, Hillsborough County Fire Rescue spokesman Ray Yeakley said. The cause of the fire is yet to be determined, but it was quickened by a relentless drought.

When it was over, the Sonday family trailer had burned, along with another trailer used for storage, and 100 acres total.

Residents in the affected area, bordered by Rhodine Road and Lover's Lane, Greenland Drive and Rising Oaks Trail, were allowed to return to their homes by 7 p.m.

But for the Sondays, the only thing left was a hazy landscape of charred trees, scattered fires, and the standing concrete block remnants of the deck Jim Sonday, 61, once built with his own hands.

Donna Sonday's eyes filled with tears as she spoke about what happened, but she still tried to smile.

When she saw the fire rushing toward her home, she called 911 and ran to her 81-year-old mother, Jane Kirby, who was lounging in a recliner in the living room. Sonday ushered her mother out the front door. Kirby has a hard time walking, but Sonday got her out in time.

As flames crackled 50 feet from their home, Sonday ran back in to search for the three dogs and two cats left inside.

Sonday said that a blond woman helped her find the pets. Four of the animals made it. The fifth -Charlie, the black cat with the deformed legs and the crooked tail - had not been found by sundown.

Fire rescuers whisked Sonday and Kirby away from the property. Neither was injured. But as soon as Sonday looked back, she saw the gray smoke turn to black. Her home, she thought, was gone.

Jim Sonday, a Kirby vacuum repairman who'd moved his family to Florida from Indiana 29 years ago, rushed home from his north Tampa office when he heard the news from his frantic wife. The palm trees he'd planted, his favorite in a yard filled with trees, were reduced to black sprays.

But Jim Sonday said he was still grateful.

"What did we really lose?" he asked his wife. "You're here. I'm here. Mom's here."

"Memories," Donna Sonday answered.