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An 83-year-old Dunedin woman and her son are left homeless and face the prospect of rebuilding soon after she paid off the debt on her home of 30 years.
By CHRIS TISCH
© St. Petersburg Times, published December 6, 2000
DUNEDIN -- With the cozy home she has owned for 30 years finally paid off and a pork roast warming in the oven, 83-year-old Inez Sonnier spotted an orange light coming from her kitchen ceiling Saturday afternoon.
She fetched a chair and climbed it to get a closer look. As she put her hand close to the light, part of the ceiling caved in. She looked up into the attic and saw orange flames dancing above.
Frantic, Sonnier tried cobbling together the dozens of family photos that adorn her home. The pictures are of her seven children, 19 grandchildren, 23 great-grandchildren and two great-great-great-grandchildren.
Outside, neighbors and bystanders noticed a plume of smoke towering from the home at 1827 Douglas Ave. Several darted inside. While one neighbor sprayed a garden hose in the attic, others urged Sonnier to leave the house. Then they carried her to safety.
The woman, whom some neighbors call Grandma, was evaluated by paramedics, but she did not need to be transported to the hospital.
The home, which Sonnier just finished paying off at the end of October, was deemed uninhabitable. Dunedin fire officials estimated the damage at $20,000. It probably will take months to fix, so Sonnier and her eldest son, Percy LaPointe, 64, will have Christmas dinner elsewhere.
Just a couple of weeks ago, Sonnier renewed her homeowner's insurance policy. She and her son said they are grateful that neighbors and bystanders came to their aid. They are temporarily staying at the home of neighbors across the street while planning to rebuild.
"I'm telling you, I never knew what good neighbors I had before Saturday," Sonnier said Tuesday.
Sonnier and LaPointe, who was watching television when the fire broke out, said they had seen no smoke before they found the fire, even though smoke was pouring from the top of the house.
"The people knew we had fire before I did," Sonnier said.
One of the people to come to Sonnier's aid was Pat Riesenberg, 16, of Palm Harbor, who was riding his bike on the Pinellas Trail when he saw smoke and heard children yelling, "Grandma's house is on fire."
"I saw these flames ripping out of the house," Riesenberg said. He ran in and helped a neighbor haul Sonnier outside; he then slipped back inside and plucked photos off the wall before the smoke became too thick.
Firefighters arrived at the house at 12:36 p.m., about seven minutes after they had been dispatched, said Dunedin Deputy Fire Chief Scott Magness. About 23 firefighters from the Dunedin and Palm Harbor departments -- equipped with three engines, an aerial unit and four support units -- brought the blaze under control 28 minutes after they arrived, Magness said.
Sonnier said she will stay at her Douglas Avenue address, even if she has to tear down the entire house and rebuild.
"If it has to be replaced, it's going to be replaced right there," she said. "It is a disappointment, but thank God I have good insurance."
Though they lost some furniture in the blaze, Sonnier said she believes all her beloved pictures were saved.
"She was trying to get her pictures out of the house because that's her treasure," said Sonnier's daughter, Delores Krommydas of Holiday.
Krommydas worked Tuesday cleaning up the charred house as best she could. "This is a happy ending," she said. "In the end, she'll have a new home and it will be paid for."
However, Sonnier said there is one other thing she wished would have been saved from the fire.
"I wish I would have thought about my roast," she said.