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Official: Fire at Clearwater senior facility was arson

CLEARWATER — An early morning fire that temporarily displaced more than 40 people at a senior living facility was the act of an arsonist, an official said Wednesday.

Rescuers arrived at Creekside Manor II, 1335 Pierce St., just before 3:30 a.m. Wednesday and found smoke and flames coming from the back of the four-story building, Clearwater public safety spokeswoman Elizabeth Watts said.

They also found a woman in a wheelchair trapped inside a unit next to the lobby, where Watts said the fire originated.

Firefighters carried the 61-year-old woman out through a window. She and three other residents were taken to Morton Plant Hospital with injuries not thought to be life-threatening, said Richard Riley, a Clearwater Fire Rescue spokesman.

Thirty-seven more residents spent the rest of the night at a nearby building. Those who lived on the second, third and fourth floors began returning to their rooms after dawn.

Damage was mostly contained to a first-floor lobby area.

Alternative arrangements were being made for residents who lived in the first floor's four units. They will likely move to Creekside Manor I, a sister property at 1318 Franklin St. owned by Volunteers of America, spokeswoman Wendy Whitescarver said.

Volunteers of America is a nonprofit organization that, among other things, provides Florida housing for seniors who want to live independently. In addition to Creekside Manor I, it runs Creekside Manor II, a retirement home with 36 apartments for low-income people age 62 and older.

In case of fire, there are two access exits, one on the left side of the building and one on the right. There also are front and back doors. There are no nurses on staff.

Watts said fire investigators from the Clearwater Police Department, Clearwater Fire & Rescue and the state Fire Marshal's Office conducted an investigation and determined the fire was arson because "several different points of origin were identified."

Coy Campbell, 77, who has lived in the facility for about two years, said he was scared when he heard knocks on his door Wednesday morning.

"They came knocking on my door and told me to get out," he said.

Areli Ceronibarra said she was sleeping at her apartment behind the facility when the fire started. Her mother awoke from the commotion. "I was scared," she said on her way to a bus stop.

Letha Gibbs, 65, a Creekside Manor I resident, said she has a friend who lives on the fourth floor of the facility. This is the second fire in seven months that her friend has had to deal with, she said.

No one was hurt in the other fire, Whitescarver said. The cause of that fire was never determined.

Times staff writer Katie Sanders contributed to this report.

Official: Fire at Clearwater senior facility was arson 01/13/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 13, 2010 9:10pm]
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