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Fire, explosion shake San Antonio awake

SAN ANTONIO — At 12:14 a.m. Sunday, as Taylor Swift sang Love Story on Saturday Night Live, the residents of San Antonio heard an explosion.

"My house shook," said Steve Tillack, who lives on Michigan Avenue. "I thought a tree fell on my house."

Seconds later, people heard sirens and when they looked outside, they saw an orange glow. They followed it, some still in their pajamas, walking on sidewalks and streets with their children close, the full moon bright, washing people in silver. Students at Saint Leo University, a mile away, felt the explosion in their dorm rooms and drove to find the cause.

The epicenter was 32629 Jesse Jones Ave., a dead-end street just past Magnolia Street, not far from the town's City Hall, a few shops and a park. The house, nearly all 3,020 square feet of it, was on fire.

Jeffrey Bakshis was in his garage with a buddy and his two poodles, working on a 1973 Mustang he has been restoring, when he saw an orange flash. He ran outside and saw flames shooting from his house, which is not attached to the garage. Bakshis, 28, recently graduated from Saint Leo University. His father, John Bakshis, who lives in Tarpon Springs, owns the home. He said his son lived there alone.

The Pasco County Sheriff's Office sectioned off the area, so people couldn't get close. Fire Rescue had three engines battling the blaze. When Battalion Chief Brian Rieder arrived on the scene, he pulled his firefighters out of the house. Bakshis and his friend and pets were safe and the house was engulfed. Better to fight it from the outside.

The chief said the cause of the fire is still under investigation, but that it does not seem suspicious. The elder Bakshis said he was told the fire might have started behind the refrigerator. The garage was not damaged, so the Mustang project can continue. It's stripped down now.

Small flames poked through the crumbling roof nearly an hour after the explosion — which was likely caused by ammunition stored in the house, Chief Rieder said at 3:30 a.m., after the fire was out and he was back at the station, wide awake, like other residents of the town.

Erin Sullivan can be reached at esullivan@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4609.

Fire, explosion shake San Antonio awake 01/11/09 [Last modified: Sunday, January 11, 2009 5:13pm]
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