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Fire destroys home, not life

(ran PW edition of PT)

All she could do was sift through the wreckage and give thanks.

The stereo was ruined.

The beds were shot.

The new television set was in ashes, and so was just about everything else her family owned, except a couple of Michael Jordan trading cards and a plastic doll lying on its back outside the home.

Still, Deborah Strange, mother of five, was grateful.

Fire consumed her mobile home early Friday. But it left alone her youngest child, who started the fire accidentally and was the only one home with her when it happened.

"These are all material things," Strange said, surveying the blackened shell of the living room. "You can't bring back a life."

The fire started shortly after 9 a.m. in the white mobile home at 19140 Fort Dade Ave. in west Brooksville. Strange and her son, Nick, 3, were watching home videos of a family outing to the beach at Pine Island. She got up to make a bed in another room. A cigarette lighter was on top of the TV set.

When she returned to the living room, the boy was crying.

"It was like the "I did something wrong' cry," she said. "He was scared."

She went to her bedroom and saw clothes on fire in the closet. She rushed to the kitchen and set a pot under the faucet. As water filled the pot, she ran back to the bedroom and realized the fire was out of control. The ceiling was on fire, she said.

She and Nick ran out. A family cat, Mr. Wee, also escaped.

The home was destroyed. It was close to two other homes, and the fire threatened to spread, said Deputy Chief Nick Ruggiero of the Brooksville Fire Department. But firefighters managed to put out the fire before that happened.

Ruggiero said the 3-year-old started the fire accidentally while playing with the lighter.

The home was a black soggy mess when the other children came home from school at 3:50 p.m. Friday. Together, the family walked through the ashes and looked for things to salvage.

There wasn't much. The 55-gallon fish tank was gone. So was the TV they had gotten the day before. All the furniture was ruined. Same with the grandfather clock in the northwest corner of the home.

Strange, 29, who was renting, said she and her children will stay with friends and family until they get back on their feet.

"Next time I'm going to have a smoke detector, a fire extinguisher and insurance," said Strange, 29. "I advise people to get a smoke detector. I didn't even smell the smoke."

She also will be sure to keep the lighter away from her youngest. "I always put it up high where he can't get it," she said, "but he tries to get that lighter no matter what.

"He likes the flame."

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