MOON LAKE — Brian Phelan was days away from being done when an arsonist took it all away.
Phelan, 66, is a Vietnam War veteran who has a dream of creating a nonprofit organization aimed at helping veterans find affordable housing in Pasco and Hernando counties.
For months, he and his son Luke, 18, have been fixing up a doublewide home on a nice shady lot on Waddell Street in Moon Lake Estates. They built a wheelchair ramp, in case the veteran they find is disabled, and a small tidy porch and patio.
Phelan wanted to try to find a veteran with a family. He began contacting veteran groups and researching how to set up a nonprofit, which he hopes to have done by the end of this year.
Phelan wants to call it Habitat for Heroes, if Habitat for Humanity doesn't object.
Phelan and his son finished the ramp and porch last week. He was about to get insurance on the home and find a veteran who needed a place to live when he got a call from a neighbor about 5 a.m. Friday.
The house was on fire.
Phelan left his home in Hudson and by the time he got there, the house was gutted.
The roof is gone. The new linoleum floors black. The wheelchair ramp is still solid. But the building will have to be razed and he'll have to start all over again.
"I'm not giving up," he said, though he's not sure how he's going to get the building razed and buy a new one.
Fire Marshal Donald Campbell said the fire was arson.
"Somebody poured an ignitable liquid on the outside of the home and set it on fire," he said.
Phelan said the liquid was from a tiki torch.
Campbell said he has a few suspects, but the investigation is still ongoing. No arrests have been made.
Phelan said he is more determined now to continue his mission. He's thankful no one was living there and that no one was injured. He said the idea for the project just came to him over time, as he owns numerous rental properties in Pasco and Hernando counties, and he's a veteran.
"I want to see some of the burdens taken off the veterans," he said.
Phelan said he served in the 60th Infantry from the end of 1965 till 1967.
He spent most of his tour in the Mekong Delta, he said. He was injured in his back by debris from a rocket blast.
He lived in Australia for about eight years after the war because veterans in America were treated so badly, he said.
When he came back to the states, he worked and married and had three children — a steady, stable life. But he still feels like he could have easily gone the other route; he could have been killed or maimed. He could be homeless right now. He could be desperate for kindness.
"I want to help some of these guys who weren't so lucky," Phelan said.
Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this story. Erin Sullivan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6229.