ST. PETERSBURG — Firefighters worked for more than an hour Wednesday evening to extinguish a blaze that heavily damaged a St. Petersburg home and displaced a man who had lived there nearly 25 years.
Furniture and other items were stacked wall-to-wall inside the home at 1817 Almeria Way S, officials said, impeding efforts to contain the fire. Firefighters had to cut a hole in the roof to move the items out of the way.
"We couldn't make the attack like we normally make it," said St. Petersburg Fire & Rescue District Chief Neil Crumity. "We could only move so many inches inside."
When the blaze was finally put out, three of homeowner Bill LaBarre's pet cats were believed to have perished. Firefighters rescued one cat, which later succumbed to smoke inhalation. The other two remained missing.
LaBarre, who learned his house was on fire when a neighbor called him at work about 5:30 p.m., stood at the edge of his property late Wednesday holding an oxygen mask over the face of a caged bird rescuers had pulled from inside.
"There was a lot of stuff in the way," LaBarre said. "It was just being stored in there."
A jogging neighbor saw smoke billowing from under the eaves just after 5 p.m. He ran next door, where Ingrid Taramona, 14, lives with her parents, and told the family to call 911.
The family, who described LaBarre as a "nice guy," wondered about the items inside his home, but never asked about it.
"When we knock on the door, it takes him forever to get out," Taramona said.
Firefighters, who determined the blaze started in the kitchen and was electrical, said items were stacked in side every room from floor to ceiling.
"In my 32 years on this department, I've never seen anything like this," Crumity said.
LaBarre has been cited and fined numerous times in the past five years for violations related to the storage of items in his yard, court records state. Some of the violations included parking inoperable vehicles in his yard, keeping a swimming pool in disrepair and storing items outside.
A few of the items in his house were related to a lawn service business he runs in addition to work as a private contractor doing home remodeling, LaBarre said. He plans to stay with friends until he can sort out the mess.