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Untended pot of boiling potatoes ignites a blaze that leaves two families homeless

PALMETTO BEACH — Personnel at Tampa's Palmetto Beach fire station heard someone pounding on the front door at 4:47 a.m. Thursday.

About a minute later, the firefighters were at the duplex just down the street, at 2217 Linsey St., where they saw flames and smoke coming from the building.

The crews had the fire under control in 15 minutes. No one was injured, officials say. But two families were without homes on Thanksgiving after a pot of boiling potatoes caused an early-morning fire at a Tampa duplex.

An investigator reported that the fire started in unit A, where Allee Watson, 61, of Philadelphia was visiting his son, Stephan Watson, 47.

Allee Watson boiled potatoes on the stove early Thursday morning but forgot to turn the burner off when he was done, authorities said.

Thinking he had turned it off, he went to lay down in the bedroom at about 2 a.m.

Stephan Watson got home from work shortly after 2 a.m. and went to sleep. He woke up when his dog started barking.

The apartment was so full of thick black smoke he couldn't see anything, and he yelled for his father, Tampa Fire Rescue reported. The two men and the dog got out safely.

Next door, Debbie Pilcher, 45, and her daughter, Shainta Pilcher, 20, woke up when they heard their neighbors yelling. The two women and Shainta Pilcher's month-old daughter, Jasmine, got outside safely.

The fire burned only Watson's unit, but Pilcher's apartment was badly damaged by water and smoke. The total loss is about $45,000, Fire Rescue reported.

There wasn't a smoke alarm in Watson's unit, officials said.

The American Red Cross is helping the families with temporary shelter.

Tampa Fire Rescue spokesman Bill Wade says that cooking is the most common cause of fires in the home. He offered a few tips:

Always keep a watchful eye on food when it is cooking on the stove. Double check to make sure all burners are completely off when you are finished cooking and never leave anything — including food, dishes or cook books — resting on burners in case the burner is accidentally left on or turned on.

Times staff writer Luis Perez contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at (813) 226-3433 or

Untended pot of boiling potatoes ignites a blaze that leaves two families homeless 11/25/10 [Last modified: Thursday, November 25, 2010 10:23pm]
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