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Gulf Island Beach & Tennis Club evacuated after electrical fire

HUDSON — David Cowan unlocked his condo for the fifth time this week. The only light on Thursday afternoon came from a sliding glass door in the back. The air was warm and stale.

He made the trip this time to unplug the refrigerator and open the door to keep mildew from growing. As he did, a musk filled the room.

It has been a week since power went out at Gulf Island Beach & Tennis Club, a complex of high-rise condos overlooking the gulf. A small fire broke out Feb. 21 in the Building 2 electrical room, said Pasco fire Marshal Don Campbell. He said he isn't sure what specifically caused the fire, but he knows the electrical equipment in the building is old.

Campbell deemed the building, which holds 108 units and about 250 people, uninhabitable until the power system is fixed. There is some electricity that goes to the outside lights of the building and can run elevators, said property manager Jim Johnson, but the units will be out for at least another week while an electrical contractor brings the system up to building code standards.

Campbell said he worried about 250 people in the building lighting candles and using space heaters in lieu of electricity.

"It's got disaster written all over it," he said.

A note from Johnson appeared on condo doors the afternoon of Feb. 22, detailing the cause of the outage and telling residents they would have to be escorted back into their units to retrieve food and other things. Later that day, club employees came around to evacuate the condos with the help of Pasco sheriff's deputies.

Most of the residents had no family in the area to live with, said Janet McGuire, regional spokeswoman for the American Red Cross. "They were snowbirds from Canada, the majority of them," she said. And they had already planned to return north soon, McGuire said, so they just packed up and left.

Another two dozen residents were able to find other accommodations at area hotels or otherwise, she said. One person needed shelter and food vouchers from Red Cross.

Cowan owns a unit at Gulf Island Beach & Tennis Club, where his disabled brother Paul Douglas lives. When deputies evacuated the residents last week, Cowan took Douglas to his own house a few streets away. Cowan said deputies made it clear they had to go: "Get out, or you're going to jail," one told him.

This week, electrical workers could be seen replacing parts of the shorted system. Tim Moore, the county's chief building official, said the building was built in 1982 with original wiring.

Johnson explained that most of the club residents do not have insurance to cover time lost in the condo.

"All I can say is," he said, "it's going to be a tough two weeks."

Alex Orlando can be reached at aorlando@tampabay.com or (727) 869-6247.

Gulf Island Beach & Tennis Club evacuated after electrical fire 02/28/13 [Last modified: Thursday, February 28, 2013 8:43pm]
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