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Fire damages 4 businesses in strip center

A fire broke out in a strip shopping center on Ridge Road early Tuesday morning, causing extensive damage to four businesses, including a restaurant that was about to open for breakfast. Dorothy Brown, a waitress for CJ's Restaurant, said she called 911 when she heard about the fire and was put on hold.

"When they got back to me, smoke was starting to come in and they kept asking me the address," she said. "Then the smoke started getting thick and I said, 'I gotta get out of here, I can't breathe."' About 15 minutes later, she said, the Magnolia Valley Volunteer Fire Department arrived. When they saw how big the fire was, said Chief Mike Burford, they called in the Port Richey, New Port Richey and county fire departments to help.

County Fire Marshal Bill Brown said Tuesday afternoon that the fire did not look suspicious, but he had no official information or damage estimates.

The worst damage appeared to be at B&D Business Machines, where the heaviest flames and smoke billowed from the windows and roof.

Don Longworth, who owns B&D and the adjacent Bay Area Office Supplies, said he had just gotten to work when he noticed smoke.

"I opened up and I went down to (CJ's) to say 'Hi' and get a cup of coffee. On my way back I noticed in the window heavy smoke about 3 feet down from the ceiling," he said. "I ran back to the restaurant and told them to call the fire department."

John Tsavaris, who owns CJ's, said that there was extensive smoke damage to his restaurant, but that being out of business would cost him the most money.

"It's the season now and I'm going to lose a lot of money," he said.

Tsavaris said he was disappointed in how long it took the fire departments to start fighting the fire. The fire started about 7 a.m., and firefighters still were pouring water on the building at 8:30 a.m., he said.

As Tsavaris saw firefighters break the windows into the office supply and business machine stores, as well as the Image Beauty Salon, he rushed to give them the keys to the doors of his restaurant.

"Breaking out the windows is not right, not if you can open the door," he said. "That's just more for the insurance to have to pay."

Chief Burford said that the public often complains at fires because they think it takes too long.

"It's a few minutes to get everything set up," he said.