WIMAUMA — Lightning was exploding in the skies late Sunday when Dexter Charles heard a resounding crack that seemed to shake the ground.
"I mean the whole place just lit up," said Charles, 52. "After that, we heard a big bang. We didn't know what it was."
Minutes later, he looked outside to see the roof of a home kitty-corner to his engulfed in fire.
While homeowners Tien Tu and Nhien Nguyen were with their two young sons on a trip to SeaWorld Orlando, their 5,000-square-foot home at 3410 Lake Cortona Way was destroyed by the fire that began around 10 p.m. Sunday.
The roof collapsed, and the back wall crumbled. The charred inside still smoldered Monday morning.
The family is devastated, said Tu's brother, Don Tu.
"They are kind of lost," he said.
The family had planned the trip to Orlando for months. They will stay there a few more days, Don Tu said, while they work out insurance issues. Then, Don Tu said the family will probably stay with him in his Tampa home until they figure things out.
Looking through the back porch of the Wimauma house on Monday afternoon, one could see inside what used to be a family home suddenly turned into an open courtyard.
On the concrete porch, all that appeared untouched were a tricycle and child's ball.
The metal frames of two chairs sat side by side next to a window, robbed of their upholstery.
The entire orange tile roof was gone, except for edges left at the very front of the house. The charred remainder of the roof lay in rubble on the floor. The garage door twisted inside the house, contorted by heat.
Everything smelled burnt.
"It's completely gutted," Charles said. "There is nothing inside. It's totally destroyed. Nothing to be salvaged."
The house was assessed at nearly $400,000 in 2009, according to the Hillsborough County property appraiser.
Fire officials say they are still investigating the blaze and trying to determine the official cause. No one was injured.
Paul Portman, a neighbor who was driving by the house Monday afternoon, said he had heard a loud crack Sunday night, then saw several fire trucks.
"The place lit up the sky," he said.
Lightning in the area was reported to the National Weather Service about 9:47 p.m., according to a Hillsborough Fire Rescue spokesman. Fire crews received calls about a fire at 9:58 p.m.
At the time of the fire, the severe weather moving through Hillsborough was producing an average of about 300 strikes per hour in the southwest portion of the county, according to estimates from the National Weather Service in Ruskin.
A dispatcher said late Sunday that there were 1,000 rounds of ammunition reported to be in the home, making firefighters cautious. A spokesman said Monday there was no ammunition.
Times staff writers Shelley Rossetter and Edward Linsmier contributed to this story.