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By JOE HUMPHREY
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 16, 2000
TAMPA -- Mauricio and Ivette Dominguez have spent months fixing up a house for his parents, who arrived Saturday in Miami from Cuba. Monday was the day Olga and Victor Dominguez were supposed to settle into their freshly painted home at 2301 S 49th St. in Palm River.
But instead of a celebration, there is agony. An explosion rocked the house early Monday in what investigators are calling arson.
"I'm really confused," said Ivette Dominguez. "I cannot think straight about what happened."
If there is a silver lining, it is this: The Dominguez family had to stay an extra night in Miami for a funeral, so the overhauled house was unoccupied when it burned.
The house was destroyed, said Chief Cliff Hitchman of Hillsborough County Fire Rescue.
Damages are estimated at $40,000.
The Dominguez family was driving home from Miami early Monday evening and had not yet seen the scorched house, which is next to their own.
"We've been working on this for a long time," Mrs. Dominguez said in a telephone interview. "There's all new carpet, a new ceiling -- everything -- air conditioning, furniture."
Mrs. Dominguez said she learned about the fire after an early morning call from a neighbor. The neighbor told her not to worry about theft, because everything was destroyed.
In the yard was the front door, which investigators said was blown 20 feet from its frame by a blast so strong it knocked part of the house off its foundation.
Hitchman said he doesn't know what fueled the blast. There is a gas stove in the house, he said, but investigators were unsure if it was connected. The interior was charred, and only parts of the exterior remained standing. Trees that once hugged the roof were singed by flames.
Once the fire started, witnesses said, it didn't take much time for the flames to consume the unoccupied house.
Ben May saw the fire from a few blocks away. He said the house was fully engulfed at 7:30 a.m., when he arrived. He went around to the back of the house and yelled inside, in case people were trapped inside.
"If anyone would have been in there, it would have been over," said May, a marketing manager for Southern Wine and Spirits.
Others were more concerned about the prospect of an arson in their neighborhood, in light of 25 fires that have been intentionally set since July in Tampa Heights.
"It scares me with everything going on in Ybor City, being that we have a wood-frame house," said Carolyn Durden, who has lived in Palm River since 1971.
Her husband, Curtis, said he was sickened by the fire.
"Mauricio was so tickled about his mother and father coming," said the retired painter. "You don't hear of a son or daughter doing anything for their parents anymore."
Hitchman said a neighbor called 911 at 7:32 a.m. to report the fire, and firefighters arrived seven minutes later. They found the single-story wood house fully engulfed. It took 15 minutes to extinguish the fire, Hitchman said.
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