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Fire rips through Tarpon shop

A candle store in the Sponge Docks area is damaged, but no one is hurt. Firefighters are unsure what caused the blaze.

A two-alarm fire Thursday night severely damaged a candle shop on the city's main tourist strip and endangered numerous other stores before firefighters got it under control.

The fire, reported at 7:25 p.m., gutted a third of the 5,000-square-foot Candle Shoppe at the Sponge Exchange, a cluster of shops that now stands on the city's historic sponge auctioning area.

When firefighters arrived, smoke was visible from about a quarter of a mile away, and flames had burst through a window.

"We had a great stop on it," said Tarpon Springs fire Lt. John Merante. "Unfortunately, we have a lot of damage. But it could have been a lot more."

Firefighters were able to stop the blaze before it engulfed the entire shop on Dodecanese Boulevard, but the rest of the store had heavy damage from heat, smoke and water.

Damage estimates were not available Thursday, but several other shops also had smoke and water damage, said Tarpon Springs deputy Chief Kevin Bowman.

Firefighters battled the flames for about 30 minutes but called for additional backup because they were worried that it could spread.

"We had a major concern about that," Bowman said.

About an hour after the blaze was reported, firefighters were busy making sure it would not re-ignite, especially because it was a windy night.

The Fire Department used a thermal imaging camera to find hot spots in the shop and doused a corner of the store with a foam and water mix.

Charred cassettes, CDs, stuffed animals and other knickknacks littered the store, which had an unusual smell that was a mix of scented candles and badly burned items.

No injuries were reported from the fire, and its cause still was under investigation late Thursday.

"It was well involved when firefighters arrived at the scene," Bowman said.