YBOR CITY — Fire destroyed one of the oldest homes in Hillsborough County early Monday, gutting the more-than-century-old Ybor City house as it teetered toward collapse.
The fire flared up about half past midnight inside the two-story wood-frame house at 2306 N Nebraska Ave. The flames became so massive, and the building so unstable, that it took more than two hours and nearly 50 firefighting units to get it under control.
At sunrise, puffs of gray smoke still seeped from holes near the foundation as what remained of the historic edifice smoldered.
Fire crews convened with Tampa code enforcement officials in the back yard before permission was granted to demolish the building.
"The problem we have had is that this is a historic house," fire Marshal Milton Jenkins said. "There is a lot of historical value to the homes in this area."
Officials do not know what caused the fire.
The house, which sits on the edge of Ybor City just north of Interstate 4, bears a construction date of 1900, according to Hillsborough County property records. But officials said the year could have been a guess, as it is difficult to determine the exact age of many of the area's older buildings.
"A lot of those dates were just estimates," said Keith Ankrom, senior appraisal manager for the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser's Office.
He explained that prior to the mid 20th century, appraisal methods for county properties were much different from what they are today. In many cases, no record of a building's exact year of construction exists.
"There is really no way of tracking them down," Ankrom said. "In the '50s or '60s, they hired fire department employees to measure all the homes. Sometimes they were just guessing at the ages. It just gets dicey when you're talking about a house that old."
Even so, the 1900 date is probably about right, Ankrom said. Whenever it was built, the dilapidated domicile certainly ranks among the oldest homes in Hillsborough County. A search of county records that Ankrom conducted Monday found only 28 homes with a construction date of 1900 or earlier.
In Tampa, such buildings are deemed "historic" and are subject to municipal rules aimed at preserving them. The oldest home, another two-story wood frame at 3210 E Eighth Ave. in Ybor City, dates to 1842. The William Morrison Home at 850 S Newport Ave. in Hyde Park was built in 1882. Records show it retains a market value of about $1.4 million.
A yellow placard posted on one of the four boarded-up front windows of the Nebraska Avenue house marked it as condemned. A set of double doors atop the front steps hung open, revealing a staircase with charred wood. Blue sky peered through a gaping hole in the roof.
Lucy Bosy of South Tampa owns the house, records show. She bought it in 2010, but authorities said it has been vacant at least since then. Bosy did not return a call for comment Monday.
A passing motorist spotted the heavy flames and smoke coming from the house early Monday morning and dialed 911.
Firefighters soon arrived and broke in through a rear door to fight the blaze but later backed out as the heat and flames became too intense, officials said.
Smoke billowed through the roof and drifted onto nearby Interstate 275, prompting the highway's closure in both directions between the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard exit and I-4. The road was reopened about 2:30 a.m.
When firefighters assessed the damage, they could hear the walls creaking and popping, officials said. Its foundation blocks sat on what authorities described as a pit of muddy water.
By 10 a.m., city officials had signed the legal papers permitting the historic building's destruction. About 1:15 p.m., the iron claw of an excavator began to pry into the north wall.
It was a lamentable end for the century-old structure, which stood by as Tampa grew from a tiny cigar hub to a metropolitan area. Still, some might say it was time for it to go.
"Not very good condition," Ankrom said Monday as he read notes on the home in county records. "It sounds like it needed to burn."
Times photographer Skip O'Rourke contributed to this report.