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Third blaze in less than a week destroys home, displaces couple

The fires are not connected, the city's assistant fire marshal says.

By Jonathan Abel, Times Staff Writer
Published March 13, 2008


LARGO - Gail Rich and her fiance, Phil Altizer, were sitting in their living room Monday night when flames raced from the back of their mobile home.

A neighbor ran over with a fire extinguisher. Altizer grabbed a hose to control the flames until firefighters arrived.

The blaze, at Unit 68 at the Indian Rocks Estates mobile home park off 126th Avenue N, left Rich, 61, and Altizer, 51, with nothing except their lives and their pets. The Red Cross is putting them up for three nights at a local motel.

Rich suffers from multiple sclerosis and her fiance is recovering from surgery to remove cancer from his face.

"It just blew my mind how fast it went," Rich said. "I don't know what to do. I'm at a total and utter loss."

The home also suffered smoke damage. Largo Assistant Fire Marshal Tim Wedin said it was a total loss. Darryl Rossignol, the president of the mobile home co-op, said the park was waiting to hear from the building inspector whether it could be fixed.

Outside the home, white siding was peeling, the concrete stoop was cracked and charred household items were scattered in the yard.

Arson investigators from the fire department and the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office were examining the scene, but officials said there was no indication of wrongdoing.

This marked the third fire in less than a week to drive a Largo family from its home.

"It's kind of a heavy load this week," Wedin said. "Sometimes you won't get one for weeks and then - boom! - three in a week."

Wedin added that the fires were not connected.

About 5:30 a.m. March 7, fire tore through Unit 37 at the No Go LargoVillage Mobile Home Park at 1760 Clearwater-Largo Road.

Resident Scott Shoemaker said he woke up to pounding on his front door. He peered outside and saw fire shooting from Trailer 37.

"It was just blazing out the window," said Shoemaker, 44.

About that time, Barbara Willardo heard her neighbor outside yelling "Miss Barbara, Miss Barbara! Our house is on fire!"

Willardo said she called 911. By the time she walked to the home, the residents of the burning house - Mark Gverovich, 48, Sharon Gverovich, 60, and their son - had all escaped safely.

Other neighbors said they saw the family's dog, Jake, jump out the window, which exploded from the heat.

At least one cat got out too.

But residents said the family's bird, Buddy, wasn't as lucky.

Neighbor Janelle Deemer said she gave the family shoes and clothes and let them use her phone.

The Red Cross helped them find a hotel for the night, Willardo said. The family planned to stay with relatives until they could find a more permanent solution, she said.

Wedin said the investigation pointed toward smoking in bed as the likely cause.

The night before, March 6, yet another house was lost to fire - this one a 3,000-square-foot structure at 1607 St. Paul's Drive. An investigation found the fire began in a power strip behind the computer, Wedin said.

The family living at the house had gone out to dinner and returned about 7:30 p.m. only to find the house consumed by flames, Wedin said. He was not immediately able to provide the names of the residents, but he said no one was hurt.

The Pinellas County Property Appraiser's Web site lists Steven A. Ives and Collette A. Ives as the owners and estimates the value of the home at more than $400,000.

Jonathan Abel can be reached at or 727 445-4157.

Fast facts

Three fires under investigation

No. 1: house, St. Paul's Drive, March 6

No. 2: mobile home, No Go LargoVillage Mobile Home Park, March 7

No. 3: mobile home, Indian Rocks Estates mobile home park, Monday

[Last modified March 12, 2008, 21:50:05]

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