HUDSON — Three gray-haired men stood among the black piles of debris Thursday morning, poking through with shovels for anything salvageable.
Each had his own eulogy to the three-story home that overlooked a vast swath of sawgrass and the Gulf just beyond the trees.
"It was a beautiful home and a beautiful view," said Bob Washburn, who lives across the street. "That's for sure."
"It had huge window walls," said Jack Leishman, another neighbor. "It was the most spectacular view."
In the middle of the rubble, Tony Peak, 68, stood between concrete pilings draped with steel I-beams that had been turned into fettuccine by the fire. The pilings, about 15 feet tall, were the only parts of the home left standing because they extended an equal length into the ground. Peak knew this because he put them there.
Peak is from Oakland County, Mich. In 1999, after spending time on a few other properties in Hudson, he chose this spot where a channel in the sawgrass snugs against a spit of land at the corner of Edgewater Circle. The tranquility sits a tick west of U.S. 19. The day he bought the lot, he dubbed it the Sanctuary.
"It's what inspired me to put everything I had into it," he said.
He spent his summers saving money while working at an excavating company in Michigan and his winters making his new home. The first year, he did the pilings and framing. Then the insulation and drywall. Then the flooring — Brazilian cherry. He got a certificate of occupancy in 2003.
He'd intended to move his parents into the duplex, he said, but they died before it was done. He rented out the second floor and stayed on the top, where the view extends over the gulf and north to Hernando Beach.
Peak had spent Wednesday at the VA hospital in Tampa, where he'd just learned that his skin cancer had cleared up. He was overjoyed and went to dinner in Dunedin with friends.
That evening, during the most picturesque of sunsets this year, the pinnacle of the views that inspired the house, flames started near the stairs of Peak's dream home. They scaled the south wall and licked at the eaves.
The second-floor tenants were home and a neighbor who saw the flames came with a ladder to rescue them from the wrap-around porch. The neighbor declined to be named in this report. One of the occupants was taken to a hospital for treatment. No one else was injured.
Pasco County Fire Rescue crews arrived four minutes after the call and found the house mostly engulfed. With no fire hydrants on the block, firefighters shuttled the water in trucks. Winds kicked the flames over the house.
Leishman called Peak to tell him about the fire. The drive from Dunedin took 30 minutes. By the time he got there, the $600,000 house was gone.
Firefighters are still investigating the cause.
Peak said the house was in foreclosure but he expected to come out of it still owning the property. Wells Fargo had forced insurance on the home, he said, but he wasn't sure how much it covered.
So on Thursday, he and his neighbors waded through the wreckage — shreds of clothing, scraps of wood, charred skeletons of patio chairs — to find what they could, with a spectacular view.
Contact Alex Orlando at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6247.