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Noted artist James Rosenquist loses Hernando Beach home in brush fire

ARIPEKA — The home of world-renowned painter James Rosenquist was destroyed in an 80-acre brush fire that ripped through the Hernando Beach area on Saturday.

The fire, which was concentrated near Indian Bay Road and Osowaw Boulevard, destroyed the artist's home, office and studio. A second home also was lost, officials said. No one was injured.

"Everything's gone," Rosenquist said when reached late Saturday night. "Totally wiped out."

Firefighters from the Department of Forestry battled the blaze, which started shortly after 1 p.m. in the remote area, for several hours. By 9 p.m. Saturday, it was 80 percent contained, said forestry spokesman Don Ruths.

Crews were trying to protect the structures, Ruths said, but had to abandon them once they learned about the volatile materials that were stored in Rosenquist's studio. After firefighters retreated, a propane tank in the artist's studio exploded.

Rosenquist, who had been evacuated, watched the blaze from a distance.

Longtime friend Carl Norfleet said he took Rosenquist by boat out into the Gulf of Mexico so the 75-year-old could see what was happening. Officials had already cut off access to the roads.

Rosenquist is known for his billboard painting, fine art and interpretations of the pop art movement.

In a 2008 profile, he told the St. Petersburg Times that he discovered the community in the 1970s, while his wife and son recuperated from a car accident in Tampa.

"I had a lot of time to drive around," he told the Times. "That's how I found this place."

Officials have not determined what caused the fire, but said dry weather conditions didn't help.

"At first it was looking bad," Ruths said. "The winds kept shifting on us."

Hernando Times editor Mike Konrad contributed to this report. Kameel Stanley can be reached at kstanley@sptimes.com or 727 893 -8643.

Noted artist James Rosenquist loses Hernando Beach home in brush fire 04/25/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 28, 2009 12:58pm]
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