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Fire destroys Saddlebrook condo unit

When his daughter said over the phone that the fire on the bed had restarted, Jim Bell ordered her and her younger sister to get out. They did and no one was injured.

By RYAN DAVIS

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 16, 2001


WESLEY CHAPEL -- Victoria Bell called her parents from the family's Saddlebrook condominium Thursday evening with what the 12-year-old thought was terrible news: She and her 9-year-old sister had accidentally burned a hole in the parents' bed with a candle.

It got worse.

While on the phone with their parents the fire rekindled.

"We just said get out," Jim Bell said he told the girls.

He and his wife, Athena, were at work at International Fitness Professional Association near the University of South Florida campus in Tampa. By the time Jim Bell arrived home -- he's not sure how long it took, although he said he reached speeds as high as 140 mph on Interstate 75 in his blue BMW Z-3 -- the two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo was destroyed.

Fire gutted the master bedroom, Pasco County Fire Rescue Assistant Chief Chris Alland said. Heat and smoke damaged almost everything else.

The girls and several neighbors who saw smoke pouring out of the house called 911 about 6:09 p.m, Alland said. The parents also called authorities from their office.

Firefighters arrived at the 5454 No. 1 Saddlebrook Way condo about 6:18 p.m., Alland said. They had the fire under control by 6:35 p.m. The condo is part of a four-unit building. The middle units are two stories and the end units are ranch-style. The Bells lived in a one-story section, which is about 1,250 square feet, neighbors said. No other condos were damaged, Alland said.

The Bells moved in last July so the girls could go to school at Saddlebrook Prep and take tennis lessons, Jim Bell said.

The family was living in the condo temporarily while they looked for a house in Saddlebrook, he said.

If there's any good news, Bell said, it's that most of the family's valued possessions were in storage during Thursday's fire.

"The family mementos, the art, the antiques . . . that was all in storage," Bell said.

The most valuable possession ruined: "my wife's million-dollar wardrobe," Bell joked.

He said he had insurance on the condo and expected his family would stay with friends Thursday night.

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