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St. Petersburg warehouse fire destroys uninsured business; investigators assess cause

LEALMAN — The warehouse heavily damaged in a fire was still smoldering Wednesday morning as former tenants showed up for a daylight assessment.

It was grim.

Steve Roe's uninsured restaurant upholstery business was destroyed. The fire appears to have started in his business, Roe said, and he estimated his losses at $50,000. He already was thinking about a new site for his workshop, but unsure how he would pay for it.

"Maybe Obama will give me a stimulus check," he said ruefully.

Chris Carey drank coffee behind a fire barricade and waited for word from his boss and the building's co-owner, Lisa Maddux.

Firefighters have yet to say what started the blaze but appear to have ruled out a lightning strike from Tuesday's heavy storms. Pinellas County arson investigators were joined for a standard inspection by an Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms official because of the high-dollar value of the losses.

The fire was concentrated in the southeast corner of the $1.65 million building and ripped through the roof at 3120 46th Ave. N, part of Joe's Creek Industrial Park, according to the Pinellas Sheriff's Office.

Business owners said it appeared firefighters had some water pressure troubles and had to run a hose halfway down the street. That's not unusual, said Lealman fire Capt. K. Larry Thompson.

"No matter where you are, at a fire this big, water pressure's going to be an issue," Thompson said. "We were pumping 4,000 to 5,000 gallons of water per minute, so we called the water department and had them up the pressure."

About 30 people worked in the complex for charity, furniture, cabinetmaking, stonework and upholstery businesses, Maddux said. She could not be reached for comment, but planned to meet with tenants on Wednesday, said Casey, the technical manager for her stone and cabinet business.

Roe, whose Steve's Restaurant Upholstery makes booths and tables for Applebee's and other restaurants, said fire investigators told him that business owners wouldn't be allowed in for at least a couple of days.

Roe said he left his shop at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, about a half-hour after his four employees left. He unplugged all the electrical appliances, and the only things left on were a few halogen lamps, he said. There were two 55-gallon drums of epoxy in the shop and a lot of oak. The blaze began around 8 p.m. and burned in hot spots through the night.

Roe lost his entire inventory of vinyl, foam, saws, sewing machines and oak.

The building had six tenants, said Casey. The building will likely be demolished and rebuilt, he said.

One firefighter, Lt. Mike Burgmaier, cut his hand during the fire, but got stitches at St. Petersburg General Hospital and returned to the scene to continue battling the fire. No other injuries were reported.

Staff writer Emily Nipps contributed to this report and can be reached at (727) 893-8452 or nipps@sptimes.com.

St. Petersburg warehouse fire destroys uninsured business; investigators assess cause 04/15/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 15, 2009 7:12pm]
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