Blaze damages house

Firefighters work to save three pets; one dies.

Published May 11, 2007

CLEARWATER - No one was home when flames ran through the house at 815 Howard St., but firefighters still had victims demanding oxygen: two dogs and a cat.

Clearwater and Largo fire departments were called to the blaze just before 5 p.m. Thursday. The two-story yellow house was home to four apartment units. A fire started on the second-story porch and spread through the top floor, blackening the insides of two apartments.

As the flames were put out, the firefighters carried three pets from the building. They laid them on the back lawn and gently pressed oxygen masks to the pets' faces.

A scruffy brown dog died and was covered by a yellow tarp.

A Labrador retriever and a black cat survived, with help from the oxygen.

County records show that Gerald and Denise Gentile purchased the house in 2004 for $146, 500. They did not immediately return calls left on their answering machines.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation, said Clearwater Fire spokeswoman Elizabeth Daly-Watts. The top two apartments suffered "extensive damage," she said, but it was too early to say whether the house would be inhabitable.

As the fire burned, a power line strung to a corner of the house, fell to the street below, causing electricity to flicker in the neighborhood.

Neighbor Jennifer Barber looked out the window of her house and saw the flames. She pulled up a lawn chair and sat in her front yard, watching the fire departments handle the scene.

"If it hit the tree, it could have spread," Barber said. "It's so sad."