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Dunedin candlemaker hit by fire must decide whether to continue

Firefighters had tough going Sunday fighting the flames at a Dunedin candle factory in the 1400 block of Main Street.

Courtesy of Dunedin Deputy Fire Marshal Kelly Intzes

Firefighters had tough going Sunday fighting the flames at a Dunedin candle factory in the 1400 block of Main Street.

DUNEDIN — Two days after a fire destroyed a Dunedin candle manufacturer's workshop, bees continued to flit about the fragrant charred remains.

For 15 years, Clearwater Candles owner Steve Eychas had sold handmade votives, pillars and other candles — mostly to area churches — out of the storage warehouse tucked behind the strip center he owns at 1430 Main St.

The white warehouse with red trim also housed Angel Jack Candles, which sold scented candle varieties to gift shops and other businesses.

Unfortunately, Eychas said, the ingredients inside provided just the right fuel for a blaze that struck about 11 a.m. Sunday, days before the business' peak season.

"Around Easter, I do more business in the next 30 days as far as volume of candles than I'll do in the next six months. It's a special holiday and (churches) use very large candles and they have the 40 days of Lent," he said. "This is the worst time to happen. ... It's pretty totaled."

Eychas was at the shop much of Monday and Tuesday, combing through blackened cardboard boxes, melted plastic storage units and other debris for salvageable items.

Firefighters have ruled the inferno "purely accidental," saying an overloaded electrical box was behind the $110,000 worth of damage to Eychas' shop.

He said Clearwater Candles had been a 50-year-old Tampa Bay area fixture when he purchased it in the late 1990s, then later also started Angel Jack.

Eychas said his clientele includes as many as 30 Greek Orthodox, Serbian and other churches in Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties, as well as a couple in Miami and Port Charlotte.

He said he also hand-delivered Christmas luminaries purchased by residential subdivisions and donated candles to veterans organizations.

Calling the candle-making process "relaxing," Eychas recounted how bees would often slip through the warehouse's single window to light on his fingers as he repeatedly dipped into a vat of 100 percent beeswax (or sometimes paraffin or a blend) until the product was the correct size.

The 56-year-old Clearwater man said he was at home raking leaves Sunday when a business tenant phoned with news of the fire.

Authorities say it took crews from Dunedin, Clearwater and Palm Harbor about 45 minutes to bring the fire under control.

Eychas arrived to find smoke rushing at firefighters who had ripped the warehouse doors away and had begun pulling debris into the parking lot. A boutique, thrift shop and window shop in the adjacent complex weren't affected.

"They (firefighters) did what they could. They were fighting something that had a lot of fuel for the fire to keep going," Eychas said.

He expects the insurance adjuster to stop by this morning. And he plans to call his clients within the next few days with referrals to a Chicago company he's talking to about processing those orders.

Meanwhile, Eychas will ponder whether to start from scratch.

While "enjoyable," he said the business wasn't his sole livelihood. He would have to replace his antique equipment with more modern stock and cited the raised price of wax.

"It's a life-changing thing," Eychas said of the fire. "I'll have to cross that bridge when I get a little further along."

Keyonna Summers can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or ksummers@tampabay.com. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

Dunedin candlemaker hit by fire must decide whether to continue 03/19/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 7:58pm]
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