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Family weathers storm, loses home to fire

Before Tuesday, some downed trees and loss of power were the worst of the storm woes for residents of one north Hillsborough neighborhood.

But shortly after the power returned Tuesday night, a different sort of destructive force struck one close-knit Lutz family.

A fire broke out in an imposing two-story, brick home at 19613 Deer Lake Road, spreading rapidly through the rooms and shooting a pillar of black smoke into the air so high it was visible from Interstate 275.

The fire started about 6 p.m. in the lake-front house, according to Hillsborough County Fire Rescue battalion chief Chris Reynolds. Firefighters got the blaze under control in about an hour and kept the flames from spreading to other buildings, but it kept burning for hours afterward.

No one was injured but the home was a complete loss, Reynolds said. Firefighters managed to salvage a Mercedes Benz and a motor home that were sitting outside the house.

Officials were unable to say Tuesday night whether restoring power to the building had anything to do with the fire. The county fire marshal's office had been called to investigate, Reynolds said. Seven units had been called to fight the fire, including four engine trucks from Hillsborough County and three tanker trucks from Pasco County.

The Hillsborough County Property Appraiser's Web site lists the owners as T.D. and Dorothy McRae, and places a market value of more than $382,000 on the house.

The sprawling brick home sits at the end of Deer Lake on the lip of Hobbs Lake surrounded by a cove of trees with hanging Spanish moss.

A cluster of relatives gathered on the grounds, hugging one another, talking into cell phones and occasionally dropping their heads in their hands, weeping.

Ashley-Ann Pergola, 24, said her grandparents lived in the house with her aunt. She and her parents live in the house next door.

She said the older couple had returned home shortly after power was restored to the area Tuesday afternoon. Almost immediately, the fire started, and the two fled the house.

"Our family is extremely, extremely close," she said. "We have dinners every week."

Although family members were distressed as they watched the house burn, she said the material things can be replaced. The main thing, she said, is that all their family members made it through both Hurricane Jeanne and the fire.

"They're the most important thing," she said.

Saundra Amrhein can be reached at (813) 226-3383 or amrheinsptimes.com.

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