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Man, pets escape home fire

Lee Coryell was asleep in his bed Friday morning, a space heater warming the air around him, when a popping sound awakened him. Coryell opened his eyes and saw a pile of papers had caught fire on the floor.

The fire was small, so Coryell filled a pail with water and tried to douse the flames. But the fire spread, forcing Coryell to evacuate. He dashed to a neighbor's house and asked her to dial 911.

When firefighters arrived four minutes later, flames were shooting out a back window and smoke blanketed the home at 315 Corona Ave. N. Crews knocked the flames down in five minutes, but the damage was done.

Coryell, whose homeowner's insurance expired after his father died in 1996, was left without a habitable home. He will live with family members until he can decide what to do next.

His cat, named Puddy Tat, who had been sleeping near him when the fire started, darted out of the house before Coryell did. His two dogs, which were in the front yard, also were uninjured.

"I'm happy my animals are okay and I'm fine," he said.

"It's devastating," he said. "It may look junky in there, but there's a lot of stuff in there that's treasure to me."

Coryell, 46, said he grew up in the house, which he inherited from his parents, and has lived there most of his life. He worried that his personal writing, poetry and photography were destroyed.

Rescuers evaluated Coryell for possible smoke inhalation but determined he was okay.

"He said he had a little bit of a scratchy throat," said Sunstar paramedic Brian Hunt.

About 21 firefighters, equipped with four engines and five other response vehicles, battled the blaze, which was called in to dispatchers at 11:14 a.m., said District Chief Frank Hill of the Clearwater Fire Department.

Fire investigators were focusing on the space heater and a junction box where it was plugged in. Coryell said he thinks the space heater ignited some papers.

Hill said two rooms suffered heavy fire damage. Smoke blackened the rest of the home.

Hill said the damage could have been worse without the department's swift response.

"The personnel did a good job of knocking it down and preventing more damage," he said.