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Blaze guts apparent teenager hangout

A reddish tin and block shed on a lot at the corner of State Street and St. Petersburg Drive was still hot to the touch 17 hours after it burst into flames about 9:40 p.m. Monday, melting and charring its junk-strewn contents.

"It's definitely suspicious," said Ann Reishus, fire prevention specialist of the Oldsmar Fire Department, as she poked her head over the yellow tape and surveyed the gutted area inside Tuesday afternoon.

"If you stand in the center of the building, you can feel the heat contained in it," she said.

She and other investigators found a pile of lighters in one corner of the burned-out structure. It appears to have been a former teenager hangout, with graffiti spray-painted in black on the walls, melted blue indoor-outdoor carpeting and the skeletal remains of a bed and a tan La-Z-Boy chair. A red, partially melted child's ride-on truck was left near the sliding tin doors. Undamaged cards from a deck littered the grass outside.

"It looks like someone's junk they never cleaned out," said Reishus.

As fire licked the tin roof and smoke poured from the 20- by 25-foot shed, the Oldsmar Fire Department was responding to another fire that engulfed two apartments. Reishus said it was just luck that firefighter Lt. Andre Milot was called back to the station and found an unidentified person who had walked up to report the shed fire. He called dispatch, which sent trucks from Palm Harbor, Clearwater and Dunedin. A Dunedin crew put out the fire in 23 minutes.

The shed is owned by Scott Brauer, a certified public accountant in Clearwater. He said he had no idea there was trouble on his property and barely remembered a shed there until receiving a message regarding the incident Tuesday afternoon.

"The property is virtually vacant," Brauer said. "The restaurant building (that used to be on the lot) was vandalized, that's why we tore it down. I'd like to sell the property."

Oldsmar Mayor Jerry Beverland said that part of the city is experiencing some problems with youths. "We do have some kid problems here in town in that area, and I'm getting tired of it," said Beverland. "You leave anything on your porch and it gets stolen."