After his divorce four years ago, Kenneth Swesey moved his kids and their few belongings from Ohio to Citrus County in search of a "new beginning."
Things slowly were looking up: Swesey started a new job two weeks ago as a sales representative for the Lance snack food company. He bought his first new TV a month back.
But late Saturday, the family's fresh start took a discouraging turn. A fire gutted the porch and rear side of their rented mobile home at 2750 Jupiter St., leaving them with only a trunk full of salvageable belongings.
"My son lost everything he owned," Swesey said Sunday afternoon, nursing a beer as he sat on the back of his white SUV and gazed across the street as his scorched home. "Every piece of clothing. Everything."
Kenneth Swesey II, 14, was the only person home Saturday night when the blaze began just before 11:30 p.m. He was on the phone with a friend, he said Sunday, when he saw an orange light.
"I opened the door, and there was a big old fire," the boy said.
He grabbed the family's kitten Haylem and rabbit Snowball before racing from the home.
His father was at a friend's house when a Citrus County Sheriff's deputy arrived to tell him there had been a small fire on the family's porch. But when Swesey drove up to his street, it was crowded with fire engines, he said.
"And this is what I come home to," he said, pointing toward the ruined home.
Though the home does not appear a total loss from the outside, officials have deemed it uninhabitable, Swesey said. An Inverness fire official said Sunday no cause had been determined for the fire and that the state fire marshal's office had been called to investigate.
One of Swesey's daughters heard an official say the cause appeared to be electrical.
Swesey, his son and 18-year-old daughter spent Saturday night at the man's oldest daughter's home across the street. Swesey, who did not have insurance, worried Sunday about finding a new place to live. Scraping together rent and deposit will be tough, he said, choking up.
Still, he was grateful for the small silver lining that came Sunday. His mother, Brenda Swesey, works at the Super Wal-Mart in Inverness. After hearing about the family's plight, the store's managers donated $350 worth of new clothes to the Swesey children.
Kenneth Swesey tried to put on a brave face Sunday, reflecting back on the journey he made four years ago.
"I started over then, and I guess I'm starting over again," he said.
_ Colleen Jenkins can be reached at 860-7303 or cjenkinssptimes.com.