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Arson, burglary suspected in fire

The Car Lot Bar, a tavern west of U.S. 19 on Cortez Boulevard, sustained heavy damage Wednesday in a fire that authorities say may have been set during a burglary.

The small pub caught fire about 5 a.m. Wednesday. It was unoccupied at the time, and no one was injured.

A sheriff's deputy at the scene said he noticed pry marks on the door frame and a large television about 15 feet from an open door, according to an incident report.

The fire was reported to the deputy by a person driving a truck through the area. The Northwest Hernando County Fire Department arrived to find about one-fourth of the building engulfed in flames.

Within 15 minutes of firefighters' arrival, the flames were out.

Hours later, as owner Edwin Gibbon picked through the pieces, the smell of smoke lingered. Gibbon, 64, declined to comment.

But as he worked, sunlight poured in through two large holes _ one in the roof and one in a side wall _ and through several windows that had been broken out. Wood beams and walls inside visible to the outside were charred black.

A sign tacked to the front door frame said: "Officials suspect this fire was a result of arson." It also mentioned a cash reward.

The state fire marshal's office is investigating the case. No arrests had been made as of Wednesday afternoon.

Firefighters estimated that damage to the building, about 1{ miles west of U.S. 19, at $50,000.

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