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Lutz family rebuilds after devastating house fire


Pamela Sansom has endured so much in recent years that she has often wondered whether anything would ever feel normal again. Since 2007, she has lost five people close to her. Three died of cancer. The fourth had a heart attack at age 26. And the fifth, one of her sons, was murdered. Last fall, a fire destroyed her home, burned up her husband's truck and killed four family dogs.

For six months after that, Mrs. Sansom, her husband, Raymond, and sometimes two of their grandsons lived in a travel trailer in the back yard as construction workers rebuilt their house. They slept on the one bed in the camper or the pullout couch, used a space heater in the winter and pieced together three sections of privacy fence to rig up an outdoor shower.

This month, they moved back into a new home with an airy 10-foot ceiling, a kitchen with the cooking island Mrs. Sansom had always wanted and an inviting wraparound porch.

"I love it," Mrs. Sansom said in an interview this week. "I'm very happy with it. Sometimes I look and I wonder, 'What am I doing here?' "

One thing she's doing is counting her blessings, both expected and unexpected.

"We went through a lot of grief," she said, "but we're all still together."

• • •

An electrical short sparked the fire that destroyed the Sansoms' home, which is on 19th Street N, a couple of blocks northeast of Mort Park.

It was Oct. 9, and the couple was on a camping trip to Dade City with their 4-year-old grandson.

Mrs. Sansom's son, Joshua Stewart, was at the home with his wife, Erica, and infant son, Sean.

Stewart dozed off while watching TV on the screened-in porch. He awoke about 1:15 a.m. to find the porch ablaze.

He tried to put out the fire with a garden hose, but the flames were spreading too fast. He banged on the back door and awoke Erica, who was asleep with the baby on her chest.

She escaped, but not without breathing in smoke that burned her esophagus. Sean, covered by a blanket, apparently was protected from the smoke.

Hillsborough County firefighters brought the fire under control within 30 minutes, but the one-story home and a 2002 Dodge Ram pickup in the driveway were destroyed.

Among the salvaged items was a charred cedar chest full of family keepsakes and the urn containing the ashes of Mrs. Sansom's younger son, George Anthony Stewart Jr.

Knowing that her family had escaped the fire, the urn was the first thing Mrs. Sansom asked about the night she arrived at the scene.

On Dec. 7, 2007, George was shot and killed by Timothy Blackwelder, a man who had begun seeing George's estranged wife. Blackwelder is now serving life in prison for the murder.

Since then, Mrs. Sansom also lost a third son's wife, a nephew and her best friend to cancer.

And on Dec. 26, Erica Stewart, who had rushed out of the burning house with her baby boy nestled to her chest, was found dead in bed of an apparent heart attack. She had complained of not feeling good before going to bed Christmas night, Mrs. Sansom said.

She was 26, and she left behind two young sons.

"I kept on asking God when was he going to be done with me," said Mrs. Sansom, 52, who is on a medical leave from her job as a Hillsborough County school bus driver. At those times, she said she remembered a saying that God would not give someone more than he or she could handle.

• • •

One of the things the Sansoms said they didn't have to worry about was the company behind her homeowners insurance.

It was the state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp., which has seen its share of bad press in recent years over rates.

But the Sansoms singled out Citizens field adjuster Bob Hemann as someone who made the six months they spent camping in the back yard a lot easier than it could have been.

From the first night, they said, he was available and helpful, taking call after call, answering questions, offering tips and delivering the $115,000 needed to rebuild their two-bedroom, two-bath home.

Hemann, who visited the finished home for the first time this week, said he didn't do anything special on the case. Anytime someone loses a home to fire, he said, he tries to recognize that help is needed right away. He tries to think about how he would want to be treated.

"Anything we've ever needed, anything, he's been there," Mrs. Sansom said. Then, turning to Hemann, she added, "I hope I never see you again, but it's been great."

Lutz family rebuilds after devastating house fire 04/22/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 21, 2010 1:32pm]
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