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Historic cottage burns

(ran T, NS, S editions of B)

Fire destroyed a historic house next to the Belleview Mido Resort on Friday, but the main hotel building was not damaged.

Lightning appeared to have caused the fire, Belleair Fire Lt. Chris Sipiora said.

The Belleair Fire Department responded to a complaint of smoke about 4:45 a.m. at a condominium at 150 Belleview Blvd., near the hotel. Firefighters found nothing there, but did notice a fire at a house about 200 feet from the hotel.

The vacant house was one of five "cottages" that the hotel previously used for guests who wanted larger quarters than the main hotel building could provide.

Flames spread through the house, especially the second floor, and through the roof. "I don't think it's repairable," said Oliver L. Kugler, director of sales and marketing for the hotel.

Sipiora said the pattern of the burn, the lack of any evidence indicating arson and the fact that neighbors saw lightning indicate that caused the fire.

The cottage that burned, called Brightwater, had about 4,000 square feet of floor space and was built about 1910 or 1920, Kugler said.

The exact value of Brightwater was not known, but the hotel recently sold a smaller cottage for about $250,000, Kugler said. The cottages have not been rented recently, and hotel officials have debated how they should be used. Some have housed hotel offices.

"This is definitely a great loss, not just for what the purpose was, but it's also a historic structure," Kugler said.

The hotel owners previously demolished two cottages, called Bayou and Terrace, that had fallen into disrepair.

With its white wooden exterior and green roof, the Brightwater cottage looked a lot like the main hotel, which has been touted as the largest wooden structure in the world.

But the fact that flames raced quickly though the cottage does not mean the same would happen in the main hotel.

Unlike the cottage, the hotel has an extensive sprinkler system, Sipiora said. "If they had had sprinklers, most likely it would have stopped a lot of it," he said.

Belleair Fire Chief Robin Millican said nothing about Friday's fire gave him any new worries about the safety of the hotel.

Ernie Hellmich, a 77-year-old retiree who lives in a condominium near the hotel, noticed the fire about 7:30 a.m.

"I looked out my east window and saw the black smoke," he said. "It looked like it was part of the hotel."

He was said he was impressed when he saw more than a dozen firefighting vehicles from four different departments surrounding the cottage. "We're certainly pleased to see this outpouring of equipment that was sent in for our protection."