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Family escapes house fire

Faulty wiring is blamed in the blaze and officials expect the Seminole house to be a total


© St. Petersburg Times, published July 29, 2000

SEMINOLE -- Relaxing on her couch with a cup of coffee, Nancy Riley Staley heard a loud pop.

She thought the noise on Thursday evening may have come from the circuit breaker at her home at 11097 Temple Ave. So she walked to her garage to take a look.

"You could smell the wires burning," Staley said Friday.

Through the pantry doors next to the fuse box, she saw an orange light. Within seconds, there were flames.

She ran into the kitchen, looking for baking soda to douse the fire. But she couldn't find any. She grabbed a fire extinguisher, but she couldn't get it to work.

As the flames spread, she realized she needed to get out. She grabbed to her napping 4-year-old son, J.T., and handed him to her sister-in-law, Barbara Lemongelli.

Then Staley tried to rescue her pets: two ferrets and two cats.

She managed to nab only one ferret, Pokey. The other ferret, Slinky, and the two cats, Blackie and Tabby, died in the fire.

"At least you tried, though," said neighbor Brandon Evarts, 13.

Staley's older son, 11-year-old Ricky, was at Evarts' home when the fire started.

"The main thing was getting everybody out," Staley said. "It was sad losing the cats, but the house is replaceable. We're all alive. That's what's important."

The house was engulfed in flames by the time five units from Seminole Fire Rescue responded to the 5 p.m. blaze, said spokeswoman Alison Shanabrook. Firefighters had the blaze under control within 15 minutes, she said.

"It was a pretty aggressive fire, but we got it out pretty quickly," Shanabrook said.

Investigators said faulty electrical wiring caused the fire. The loss was estimated at $75,000, Shanabrook said.

"We're pretty much predicting that the house is a total loss," she said.

Staley and her son were transported to Sun Coast Hospital in Largo, where they were examined and released. Neither suffered injuries.

Staley lived at the home with J.T., Ricky, her boyfriend and her mother-in-law. She has insurance on the three-bedroom house, which her father-in-law owns. She said she is unsure whether she will rebuild, because insurance investigators hadn't been to the house yet.

Staley, who is unemployed, said just about everything in the house was destroyed: two computers, a new washer and dryer, a big-screen television, furniture, clothes and toys.

"We had finally built up everything," she said.

Staley said she would try to salvage as much as she could, such as family photos, but that most of the belongings were either burned or damaged from smoke.

The American Red Cross will arrange for temporary housing for Staley and her sons and will provide emergency relief items to the family. John Denehan and Blaine Whitford, who work for the Tampa Bay chapter's disaster services department, spent two hours Friday afternoon assessing the damage at the house.

"This is uninhabitable," Whitford said. "That's all I can say."

To help

The Tampa Bay chapter of the American Red Cross is coordinating efforts to help the family. Call (813) 348-4820.

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