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Cornered by Idalia’s flooding, a Pasco family watched their dream home burn

Firefighters couldn’t get there in time, blocked by the high waters.
 
Dave Durst, right, and his wife, Heather, survey what remained of their Hudson bungalow, which was destroyed by fire on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023. After flood waters from Hurricane Idalia prevented firefighters from getting to the home in time, the family watched it burn.
Dave Durst, right, and his wife, Heather, survey what remained of their Hudson bungalow, which was destroyed by fire on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023. After flood waters from Hurricane Idalia prevented firefighters from getting to the home in time, the family watched it burn. [ IAN HODGSON | Times ]
Published Aug. 31, 2023|Updated Aug. 31, 2023

The tides were drawing closer, but Dave Durst wasn’t worried about flooding.

For two days, he’d packed sandbags knee-high around his waterfront home on the outer banks of Hudson in Pasco County. He’d placed valuables and furniture on top of tables and sealed the doors with foam. When it came time to leave, Durst had to crawl out a window.

The extensive measures were worth it to protect the dream home he’d spent the past two years restoring with his wife of 30 years, Heather. It was smaller than their last house, so they consolidated their belongings to just the irreplaceable essentials to fit the modest bungalow.

But flooding wasn’t the only hazard Pasco residents faced as storm surge ravaged the county’s coastline. In the early morning light Wednesday, a neighbor noticed smoke curling out of one of the Dursts’ windows. Over the next five hours, as county officials battled rising tides, the couple watched their home burn to the ground.

Pasco fared better than expected during Hurricane Idalia, said Pasco Emergency Management Director Andrew Fossa. Peak storm surges hit 4 to 6 feet and receded faster than anticipated, mitigating the afternoon king tide that officials feared most.

Flooding impacted roughly 6,000 homes according to county estimates. Had storm surge hit 6 to 9 feet as initially predicted, that number would be closer to 60,000, Fossa said. No hurricane-related injuries had been reported as of 8 p.m. Wednesday.

But for the Dursts, the mild flooding spelled calamity. It took fire trucks nearly an hour to navigate the waterlogged streets West of U.S. 19, at which point the fire had spread to most of the house, Durst said.

“Those boys fought like hell for four hours to get that fire out,” he said, “but it was just too late.”

Just a few miles down the coast, fire crews were battling another blaze that burned down two homes and damaged a third. Pasco firefighter Josh Yates said the crew tried for what felt like hours to get a truck close enough to start putting out fire. Instead they watched the wind carry the flames from one building to the next, as they moved into place.

Pasco County Engineer Sawal Patel documents the damage done by a multi-home fire in Hudson on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023. The fires occurred in the aftermath of Hurricane Idalia.
Pasco County Engineer Sawal Patel documents the damage done by a multi-home fire in Hudson on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023. The fires occurred in the aftermath of Hurricane Idalia. [ IAN HODGSON | Times ]

Yates, a life-long Port Richey resident and 12-year veteran of the fire department, said that flooding during Idalia was the most widespread he’d ever seen.

A cause has yet to be determined for either fire, but electricity is the most likely culprit, Fossa said. When salt water hits an open socket or wire, it can create sparks that easily catch fire. That’s why emergency officials urge residents to shut off breakers before evacuating their homes.

Waterlogged pages from an old yearbook were among the few identifiable objects left by a fire that destroyed two Hudson homes and damaged another on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023, in the wake of Hurricane Idalia.
Waterlogged pages from an old yearbook were among the few identifiable objects left by a fire that destroyed two Hudson homes and damaged another on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023, in the wake of Hurricane Idalia. [ IAN HODGSON | Times ]

In the coming days, county officials will start transitioning into recovery, with preliminary crews documenting damage before the Federal Emergency Management Agency comes in to perform a full assessment. For residents like Durst, the process of putting the pieces back together may take a lifetime.

The Durst family is accepting donations on the crowdfunding website GoFundMe: gofund.me/f2ffca84.

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