ST. PETERSBURG — An employee at Gallagher's Christmas Trees driving past the business early Sunday saw flames and made a frantic call to the owner.
"The Christmas trees are on fire," said the employee, driving home around 4 a.m. from a wedding reception. "I'm looking at it now. They're all on fire."
David Gallagher, whose family owns a seasonal tree, pumpkin and poinsettia business on Fourth Street N and 31st Avenue, rushed out of bed, pulled on pants and drove to the lot, where firefighters worked to extinguish the blaze.
He surveyed the damage: More than 50 white pines, blue spruces and Douglas firs, ranging from 3 to 14 feet tall, were charred. The flames had also ripped through a cloth tent top.
It appeared someone had doused the trees in gasoline lit them and slipped away, St. Petersburg police told him.
But the fire could have been much worse. Since the batch of Christmas trees had arrived from North Carolina just hours earlier, the trunks were still partly frozen.
Gallagher wondered if the person responsible for this may be the same one who smashed about 60 of his pumpkins in October.
"We're not a big corporation," he said. "This is a family-owned business. And when $5,000 worth of stuff is destroyed, we can't just write it off. It hurts."
By Sunday afternoon, the wreckage was mostly cleared and customers meandered through a new shipment of trees. Officials continued to investigate the fire.
"We've been in business for 24 years," Gallagher said, "and something like this won't stop us."