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Family escapes fire caused by sparkler; home destroyed

They are both there, somewhere among the ashes and warped aluminum of lot No. 35-B: 6-year-old Stephan Chicola's Nintendo game system and his teddy bear.

They were left behind with the rest of the family's belongings when he and his mother, Patricia, ran from their gray and white mobile home on S West Shore Boulevard early Wednesday morning. Tampa fire officials said Stephan's sparkler ignited a fire in his bedroom about 3:15 a.m. that destroyed the small home and everything in it.

After waking after midnight, Stephan said, he played Nintendo for a couple of hours, then used his mother's cigarette lighter to light a sparkler he got from a friend Tuesday in the West Shore Mobile Home Park, at 6601 S West Shore Blvd.

Afraid that his mother might wake up if she smelled the sparkler, Stephan tried to smother it with a blanket. The blanket smoldered for a while, Stephan said, and then the bedding caught fire.

"There was lots of smoke, and my mom came and opened the door to let it out," Stephan said, his brown eyes tearing. "I hid under her bed but she told me to come out or I would die."

Dean Clark, 30, was drinking beer with a friend outside his mobile home when he heard a pop about 3:10 a.m. Wednesday.

Clark and his friend looked down the palm-lined street and saw a "big red glow" about six lots away. They started running.

"My first instinct was to get the baby," Clark said.

Clark ran to the back door of the Chicolas' home while his friend punched through a window. Neither got past the heat to enter the home.

The Chicolas escaped unharmed through the front door during the attempted rescue, as flames leapt high enough to scorch the limbs of two-story tree branches and reached temperatures that melted a neighbor's plastic window. The family's two female kittens, Big Ed and Little Ed, also escaped.

Clark's friend suffered minor cuts to his hand, and blisters kept Clark from work at a car wash Wednesday.

Stephan and his mother are staying with Clark, his wife, Rebecca, and their boys until they find a new home.

While Ms. Chicola sought help at the Red Cross and Salvation Army on Wednesday, Rebecca Clark tried to replace Stephan's "Teddy," offering him a new stuffed panda. The spindly boy, his clothes still sooty from the fire, clutched the bear and named it "Baby."

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