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Blaze displaces disabled woman

By ROBIN STEIN
Published February 6, 2007


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photo
[Times photo: Bill Serne]
Michelle Novak, wearing the pajamas she escaped in, holds a charred photo of her mother that she found Monday as she picked through the rubble in the bedroom where the fire started Sunday night. She and her son were watching the TV on the bureau.

CLEARWATER BEACH - Michelle Novak was still in her pajamas Monday afternoon, picking through the chunks of furniture and charred pieces of fabric strewn around what is left of her bedroom.

Pointing to her feet, she said a thoughtful firefighter managed to toss the warped tan sandals through the window last night. Otherwise, she would still be barefoot.

Novak, 56, said it was a few minutes after the Super Bowl ended Sunday night. Her house guest said good night, and she and her son, Michael, 17, were lingering, fixated on the week-old flat-screen television, when she first noticed smoke.

"We were watching all the hoop-de-la from the edge of the bed when I saw smoke trickling up the wall," Novak said, pointing to where the headboard had been.

Novak, who is on disability due to lung disease and heart problems, said she scurried to the bathroom sink to fill a vase with water and threw it toward the smoke. When smoke continued to rise, she grabbed her cell phone and fled through the back door to get the garden hose. By the time she called 911 and returned with the hose, a curtain of black smoke was pouring from the bedroom door.

From outside, they watched as the gray cottage between the palms at 845 Mandalay Ave. burst into flames.

"In five minutes, this room just went up," Novak said, stepping through piles of mismatched shoes in her thin jewel-toned satin night set.

Elizabeth Daly, a spokeswoman for Clearwater Fire Rescue, said that so far, investigators think it was an electrical fire that began in the bedroom, and caused approximately $60,000 in damage.

Novak said the new television was plugged into an extension cord running to the other side of the room. The outlet behind the bed had only a lamp and an empty cell phone charger attached, she said.

About two years ago, Novak said, the dryer in the kitchen caught fire, which firefighters said was likely due to the age of the appliances.

She said it took months to clean everything up - getting the counter tops ripped out and cleaning up the layers of ash covering the rest of the house.

Novak, who has rented the house for five years, said that neither she nor the owner has insurance. The Red Cross arrived on Sunday night and arranged lodging at a motel at U.S. 19 and Drew Street.

Novak said her son will return to her ex-husband's home and she will stay at the motel, at least through Wednesday. After that, she said she has nowhere to go.

[Last modified February 5, 2007, 21:45:23]


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