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Water cooler blamed for Palm Harbor fire

Bobby Hartman was trying out for the baseball team Wednesday afternoon when he got a call to come home quickly.

Just before 4 p.m., Palm Harbor Fire Rescue received a call that a water cooler had caught fire inside a bedroom in the Hartman residence at 3575 Ermine Path in the Village of Woodland Hills, District Chief Dan Zinge said.

No one was injured, but officials said the fire did at least $75,000 damage to the home. It also destroyed the 16-year-old's bedroom and his extensive collection of sports memorabilia, including a prized football jersey signed by NFL star Peyton Manning and a basketball autographed by Shaquille O'Neal.

"He's training, and they told him to drink a lot of water," said his mother, Debbie Hartman. "So we got him a water cooler."

It was a Christmas gift to Bobby, a Tarpon Springs High junior. After the 5-gallon jugs of water arrived Wednesday, Debbie Hartman decided to set up the cooler. She said she plugged it in and walked away to take a telephone call. About five minutes later, she realized the machine had burst into flames, she said.

The fire was contained in the bedroom, but much of the house was damaged by smoke and water. Zinge said the damage would have been worse if a unit from East Lake Fire Rescue had not responded quickly enough to keep the fire in one room.

The cause of the fire was still under investigation Wednesday night, said Kristy Patterson, spokeswoman for Palm Harbor Fire Rescue.