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Girl, 16, dies in Tampa house fire

TAMPA — A 16-year-old girl died in a fire that consumed her bedroom Thursday afternoon.

Firefighters found Madison Clermont alone, buried beneath clothing and debris shortly after 1:39 p.m., when someone called to report smoke coming from 5012 Grainary Ave.

Hillsborough sheriffs deputies, Hillsborough Fire Rescue and Hillsborough County fire marshals were investigating the blaze late Thursday while a cluster of family members sat on the edge of the cordoned off property, keeping to themselves.

David Tucker, an investigator with the Hillsborough County Fire Marshal's Office, said authorities would not be able to determine the cause of the fire or the manner in which Clermont died until after a medical examiner conducts an autopsy.

A preliminary report could be available as soon as this afternoon, he said.

Neighbors young and old stopped outside the single-story stucco home throughout the day to see the scene for themselves. "Did you know the person," a boy asked a group of three teenage girls.

"Yes," one said. All the girls nodded.

Cadi Ring, 16, a junior at Sickles High School, said she met Clermont a few summers ago after her family moved in next door. Ring described Clermont as nice, quiet and shy — a girl who kept to herself a lot lately.

Clermont attended Sickles at one time, Ring said, but had become sick and had recently stopped attending.

Hillsborough County school officials said they had no records indicating Clermont was enrolled in the district. Ray Yeakley, a spokesman for Hillsborough County Fire Rescue, said he heard that Clermont was being homeschooled.

Yeakley said firefighters didn't find Clermont on their first sweep through the home as they fought the flames. But within the 10 minutes it took to extinguish the blaze, he said, a more thorough, secondary search turned up the young girl's body.

Paramedics immediately treated her as a patient — not a fatality — taking her to University Community Hospital on Fletcher Avenue, Yeakley said. It was there that hospital officials pronounced her dead on arrival.

Ring said another neighbor across the street first noticed the fire and called 911. He banged on the doors and windows, but finally concluded no one was home, she said.

Inside, firefighters at first couldn't find the source of the blaze. They punched holes in the ceiling trying to hone in on the fire's origin, Yeakley said. Eventually they pinpointed the front bedroom and found the teenaged victim.

By nightfall, the house looked almost normal from the curb, except for a gaping hole in the front, where the window to Clermont's room used to be.

Property records show the home was purchased four years ago by Jody Clermont. But family members at the scene of the fire stayed far from media contact throughout the day, preferring to deal with their grief as privately as the circumstances would allow.

Tucker, the fire marshal's investigator, said late Thursday that officials were considering all possibilities in their search for a cause. He confirmed that another fire investigator had reviewed Clermont's MySpace page searching for clues.

"We have too many potential causes that we can't rule out," he said.

Researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at (813) 226-3383 or rcatalanello@sptimes.com.

Girl, 16, dies in Tampa house fire 05/08/08 [Last modified: Friday, May 9, 2008 12:06am]
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