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Vendors at Dunedin antiques mall sift through fire damage

DUNEDIN — The boarded-up windows were the first hint that something was wrong.

As Jennifer Mello stepped out of her car Thursday, she smelled the smoke. Next, she saw the red "Danger" tape.

The longtime customer of Knot on Main Street realized the antiques mall had been gutted a day earlier by flames that firefighters say caused $1 million in damage.

"I was coming up here to look at some pieces of furniture," said Mello, 42, of Clearwater. "I guess all those pieces I had been thinking about purchasing are history."

Barbara O'Connell, who owns the consignment shop with her husband, Bob, said the blaze has temporarily put about 60 vendors of antiques and furniture out of business.

Several of those vendors said Thursday that their contents weren't insured.

"It's impacting everyone in a bad way," O'Connell said, adding that she and her husband are now awaiting word from their insurance company. "But we'll get through it. No one got hurt. And that's what matters."

Dunedin fire Chief Bud Meyer said the cause of the blaze appeared to be electrical in nature.

However, there were so many electrical devices in a small area that investigators couldn't determine which one caused the fire. He said an adjuster from the owners' insurance company will investigate and make a final determination.

Dunedin Deputy Fire Marshal Kelly Intzes said the fire, reported about 3:45 p.m. Wednesday, started above the ceiling grid.

According to Intzes and O'Connell, two women working inside the store smelled smoke and tried to call for help, but the phone was dead. So they ran next door and alerted the O'Connells at the auto sales and repair shop they also own.

Bob O'Connell unsuccessfully tried to fight the fire with an extinguisher. Authorities say he was treated at the scene for smoke inhalation.

The multi-alarm blaze sent plumes of black smoke into the sky and shut down traffic for hours.

"And that was the end of that," Barbara O'Connell said. "It was very fast."

A day later, her husband swept thousands of glass shards into large buckets, then helped men in hard hats board up the windows.

Property appraiser records show the O'Connells purchased the building, at 2424 Bayshore Blvd., in December 2002 for $380,000. Barbara said they opened the antiques shop in 2008.

The smell of smoke still hung in the air as vendors arrived Thursday morning to sift through their wares.

Sue Cairns of New Port Richey said she lost $3,000 worth of glass, furniture and other collectible antiques.

Jim and Sue Nunez of Tampa hoped some of their inventory might be salvageable — protected by a firewall in a newer part of the building.

A distraught-looking Beth Turner, 56, of Clearwater felt numb after losing all the items in her approximately 20- by 15-foot booth. Some items dated to the 1800s, she said.

"This is a really tough time for all of us involved. We were at the Knot from the beginning," Turner said, "and we sat and watched it burn.

"It was a big loss, an emotional and physical loss," she said. "We hope Barbara and Bob rebuild."

Times photojournalist Douglas R. Clifford contributed to this report. Keyonna Summers can be reached at ksummers@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4153.

Vendors at Dunedin antiques mall sift through fire damage 06/09/11 [Last modified: Thursday, June 9, 2011 8:27pm]
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