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Wesley Chapel wildfire damages home, forces evacuations

WESLEY CHAPEL — Firefighters battled a ferocious blaze Friday that sent anxious homeowners into the streets and giant billows of white smoke into the sky.

The brush fire started before 3 p.m. in the dried woods behind the Quail Hollow Pines subdivision, said Anthony Petellat, a supervisor with the Withlacoochee Forestry Center of the state Division of Forestry. At one point the fire jumped a road, and officials evacuated some residents of neighboring Westwood Estates, he said.

By 7:30 p.m., the fire had devoured 270 acres and damaged one home, Petellat said, but firefighters contained the blaze and homes were no longer threatened.

"You never get used to it," said Denny Nowiski, 61, a resident of Westpoint Drive who stood outside with neighbors Friday evening. "I saw flames behind a house earlier. The trees were burning. That's what's scary about it."

Glen Clegg, 45, an administrative chief with Zephyrhills Fire Rescue who lives in Westwood Estates, got a call from his wife about 4 p.m. asking him to come home early.

He did. And he promptly sent his wife and their four kids and three dogs to the safety of a friend's house. Clegg encouraged other neighbors to evacuate, too.

"This doesn't make me nervous," he said, "but the kids are crying because they're afraid."

Other neighbors milled about the streets, watching the spread of the fire, sharing information, comforting each other.

Lesley Kroenke called to check on her friends on Green Willow Run, the street that backs up to the burning woods. Then she headed outside with her camera to take pictures and shoot video.

"I hope they put it out before it damages any other houses," said Kroenke.

A Division of Forestry helicopter flew into the smoky plume every 10 minutes or so to douse the flames with water. Firefighters expected to stay into the night, snuffing out the hotspots and keeping the blaze at bay.

Wesley Chapel wildfire damages home, forces evacuations 05/08/09 [Last modified: Friday, May 8, 2009 8:49pm]

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