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Early morning fire damages Tampa home of firefighter away for daughter's surgery

A Hillsborough County Fire Rescue investigator works the scene after an early-morning fire destroyed an Egypt Lake home Tuesday. The family that lived there for more than a decade was out of town for a relative’s surgery.

SKIP O’ROURKE | Times

A Hillsborough County Fire Rescue investigator works the scene after an early-morning fire destroyed an Egypt Lake home Tuesday. The family that lived there for more than a decade was out of town for a relative’s surgery.

TAMPA — Marco and Gina Solano already had their hands full tending to their teenage daughter's surgery in Arizona when the phone rang early Tuesday.

It was Gina's father. He was okay and so was her ill grandfather. But her house was not.

A fire that broke out at 3 a.m. all but destroyed the Egypt Lake house that had been the Solanos' home for more than a decade. Two cars in the garage were left a smoldering heap.

It took an hour for Hillsborough County firefighters to get it under control and another hour before it was completely extinguished. The cause was still being investigated Tuesday by the state fire marshal.

Marco Solano has been a Hillsborough County firefighter for 20 years. The news of the fire devastated the whole family.

"That house was everything to them," said Bobby Toledo, 55, Gina's father. "That house was beautiful. Immaculate."

The fire left it a hulking mess, the garage doors crumpled in a pile, exposing the burned belongings and concrete blocks inside.

Toledo, a retired firefighter in a family of firefighters and sheriff deputies, said the house was a complete loss. Toledo could hear Marco, 44, Gina, 42, and children Gabriella, 16, and Sebastian 11, all crying over the phone.

Toledo said the family will return to Tampa on Saturday and will likely stay with relatives.

They left for Arizona two weeks ago so Gabriella could undergo surgery she could only have in Phoenix. Toledo declined to elaborate.

Toledo said the family lost too many irreplaceable things. A baseball bat signed by former New York Yankees first baseman and local legend Tino Martinez. Gina's handmade wedding dress, which she displayed in her bedroom. Her collection of Victorian plates and things that made their house seem like it was from another time. Her children's cards, trinkets and cribs.

Neighbor Sheila Davenport, 43, was alerted to the fire by a neighbor who knocked on her door after calling 911. Davenport said she saw the blaze go through the garage roof and nearly reach the trees. Smoke poured out of the house.

"They put a lot of love into that house,'' Davenport said. "They're good people."

She worried about their dogs, a black Labrador and an English bulldog, but later heard they were with Marco Solano's brother.

A Jeep that was destroyed was bought less than a year ago to replace a car lost in a wreck that badly injured both Marco and Gabriella.

The family decorated the home every holiday. A pink "Happy Mother's Day" banner still hung from the front of the home.

Davenport did what she could to help.

Her garage was slowly filling with whatever could be salvaged from the burned home. There were about 30 pictures she and her daughter peeled off of ruined frames and laid out on newspapers to dry. Davenport almost cried when recalling a picture of Gina in her wedding gown at the altar. It was soaked and flaked at the touch.

Davenport has lived across the street from the Solanos for 13 years. They vacationed together in North Carolina, and their kids grew up together.

"They had the two kids and the white picket fence and two dogs," Davenport said. "And now they don't have anything."

Early morning fire damages Tampa home of firefighter away for daughter's surgery 06/28/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 28, 2011 11:57pm]
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