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Fire starts in SUV, then burns house
The Ford Expedition had been recalled, but wasn't taken in for a fix.
By JAN WESNER, Times Staff Writer
Published October 25, 2007
PLANT CITY - Debbie Wolfe was watching TV in her family room shortly before 9 a.m. Wednesday when she heard a pop.
Wolfe told a neighbor she walked outside to investigate and saw her 2000 Ford Expedition on fire in the driveway.
Minutes later, the flames had spread to Wolfe's house.
"Everything is gone," the neighbor, Terri Murphy, said.
The 2000 Expedition was one of several Ford models recalled after hundreds of reports of spontaneous fires, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The fires were blamed on a faulty cruise control switch, and happened even when the sport utility vehicle was turned off.
Wolfe's husband, Mike, said he didn't remember a recall. He said couple bought the vehicle new.
The Wolfes refused to comment further, saying they were too distressed to talk.
A check with Ford Motor Co.'s customer service hotline showed that the vehicle had been recalled for the fire hazard, but had not been taken to a dealer for the necessary repairs.
Officials from the federal safety agency and Ford could not be reached for comment.
Firefighters at the scene said the blaze quickly spread from the vehicle, which had been parked outside facing the garage door, to the eaves of the house. Flames raced through the attic space under the steeply pitched roof.
"All we know right now is it appears to have started with the vehicle, then spread up to the roof," Plant City fire Capt. Vince Kiffner said.
The house sits on a golf course at 2710 Pine Club Drive in the Walden Lakes subdivision. More than half of its roof is gone. Much of the interior of the house escaped the flames, but was heavily damaged by smoke and water.
Debbie Wolfe and her dogs, Max and Roy, weren't injured. They stood across the street and watched their home burn.
Hillsborough County property records show the Wolfes bought the 3,189-square-foot home in 2000 for $265,000.
Murphy said Debbie Wolfe told her she hadn't driven the Expedition for two days.
The front half of the vehicle was scorched on the outside, the hood apparently melted. The interior was completely burned and the windows were gone.
Firefighters from Plant City were assisted by Hillsborough County Fire-Rescue. More than a dozen emergency vehicles responded.
Later, as firefighters rolled up their hoses and drove away, Debbie Wolfe retrieved a few belongings from the home.
When asked where she and her husband would go, she said, "I don't know."