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Family escapes early fire

Sean Hopkins thought the evening was over when he left his friend Jeremy Johnson's house at 4 a.m. Tuesday.

He returned Tuesday afternoon to find the house gutted by a fire.

"I was expecting to come over here and have a chat with everyone," Hopkins, 18, said as he peered at the burned car and house.

Instead, he found the scorched remains from a fire that swept through the duplex unit at 601 Betmor Lane at 4:30 a.m. Tuesday. The duplex had been home to Kathy Johnson and her son Jeremy for six years.

Hopkins said a bunch of friends had been hanging out early Tuesday, but that there hadn't been a party.

Soon after he left, a fire started in the carport and spread into the house. The Palm Harbor Fire Department's quick-response kept the flames from spreading to the other half of the duplex, department spokesman Kevin Jensen said. The cause of the fire won't be known for a few days, Jensen said.

Damage totaled about $35,000, Jensen said. "Everything in the house was either smoke-damaged or burned," he said. No one was injured, authorities said.

Flames spread through a window into the attic and into Ms. Johnson's bedroom. Popping noises woke her, and she immediately woke Jeremy, 15, and two of his friends, who were asleep in another room.

When firetrucks arrived, flames had reached 30 feet and were licking at tree branches above the house. Kathy Johnson's car, parked in the driveway under the carport, was engulfed in flames.

"The mother said she heard the popping sound and got the kids out," Jensen said. "She seemed very upset. They had to exit from a window because the door was blocked by flames."

The blaze spread through the attic, but did not cross the fire wall into the other half of the duplex.

The family didn't have fire insurance, Jensen said.

Johnson and her son went to stay with her mother in Palm Harbor. Tuesday, Johnson was still too upset to talk about the fire.

"She's shaken up," said her daughter Stephanie, 23, who lives in Pinellas Park.

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