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Boy with fireworks sets blaze in home

After his father leaves, a 9-year-old plays with fireworks, burning his room and filling the house with smoke and soot.


© St. Petersburg Times, published July 2, 2001

After his father leaves, a 9-year-old plays with fireworks, burning his room and filling the house with smoke and soot.

ST. PETERSBURG -- During an interview Sunday with a TV station on fireworks safety, St. Petersburg Fire & Rescue Lt. Chris Bengivengo was asked whether fireworks had ever caused a house fire in the city.

The answer was no. But not for long.

Minutes after the interview, Bengivengo was on his way to a house that caught on fire after a 9-year-old boy had played with fireworks in his bedroom. The blaze burned the boy's room and sent smoke and soot throughout the home at 1429 44th St. S, causing about $10,000 in damage.

"It was just strange to me that my very next call was a call where a child had set a house on fire with fireworks," said Bengivengo, the fire department's spokesman. "It was irony."

The boy placed one of the pieces from an assorted pack of fireworks on top of his bed's headboard and ignited it while he was alone in the house. His father had left for a few minutes to go to a grocery store.

The device, the kind that emits sparks, fell from the headboard after it was ignitedand set the bedding and carpet on fire. The boy ran to get water, but it was too late.

"By the time he got back, he realized it was more than he could handle," said the boy's grandmother, Pearline Thomas, 48.

The boy ran to a neighbor's house to call 911 at 3:05 p.m. There were no reported injuries, but the family's puppy, Ace, a Rottweiler and pit bullterrier mix, was killed.

As more and more parents buy fireworks for the Fourth of July, the accident can serve as a reminder for parents to store fireworks where children can't reach them, said the boy's father, Joseph Thomas, 27.

"Keep it away from them completely because no child can be trusted when it comes to temptation," Thomas said. The boy will not be charged, but he will have to attend a class for juveniles who start fires. At the family's request, the St. Petersburg Times is not identifying the boy, who has a last name different from his father's.

The Red Cross was helping the boy and his father find a place to stay for a few days. Joseph Thomas said the house was insured.

Although the boy made a mistake, he did the right thing by calling 911 and getting out of the house, Bengivengo said.

The most important rule for fireworks is to have adult supervision, he said. The second is to realize that fireworks can set things on fire in seconds.

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