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Fire at Blake High School destroys nearly all of football program’s equipment

The blaze was contained to just the shed, officials say. But not before decimating thousands of dollars of equipment.

TAMPA — A fire on the campus of Blake High School destroyed nearly all of its football program’s equipment on Saturday, from game day necessities to practice dummies and more.

The fire started around 8:45 p.m. on Saturday on the school’s east campus, according to fire authorities. It was completely contained by 9:20, but decimated the 10-by-20 foot shed that housed the program’s equipment. No other part of the school was affected by the fire.

“I was kind of in shock when I heard,” said head football coach Duane Thomas. “We were talking about (possibly) July 15 to start practicing again. That equipment is essential.”

The shed was initially identified as being used to store maintenance equipment. A Hillsborough County Schools spokeswoman confirmed on Sunday, however, that the fire occurred in an athletics storage shed.

Related: Amid pandemic, high school football remains in holding pattern

Thomas, who has coached for 14 years in different roles at Blake, said that the fire was described to him as being “kind of a total loss.” Restrictions from the coronavirus have kept him from going to the site of the fire to see if anything can be salvaged. He plans to go to the school to assess it on Monday.

“A lot of that stuff can’t just be replaced,” Thomas said.

Blake head coach Duane Thomas looks toward his players in the first quarter in the game.

One of those irreplaceable items was a donation from the booster club: A homemade stencil that was made specifically for Blake to re-create the school’s yellow jacket logo in the center of the field for game days.

The school’s game-day equipment, field markers, pylons, chains, practice equipment, pop-up dummies, pads and all daily workout gear are presumed lost, said junior varsity head coach Michael Castellana. Some of the equipment was bought personally by coaches.

“It all could have cost more than $15,000 easily,” said Castellana. "The budgets are so tight. The money won’t be there (in the yearly budget) to replace everything, let alone 25 percent of it.”

Related: When schools reopen, will prep football teams have enough time to prepare?

Both coaches found out about the fire late Saturday. The fact that it was limited to just the football program’s equipment shed was a relief for Thomas, who initially thought that the school itself was on fire after a friend texted him from Armature Works in Tampa, where flames were visible across the Hillsborough River.

“Once I got confirmation that it was just a shed, I was relieved,” Thomas, who is also a student success coach at Blake, said Sunday. "I was concerned because all of the kids’ stuff was still there, they didn’t take it home before spring break. We’re an inner-city school and not everybody has the funds to buy new things, new cleats.

“Equipment can be replaced.”

From left, Blake's John Daway (33) and Ja'quez Riggins (15) run through a banner before a game against Middleton High School at Blake High School.

But how the equipment will be replaced is still unknown.

“A lot of coaches are trying to get together and see what we can do to have something for the boys,” Castellano said. “We talked about replacing some of the lower-priced items."

Castellano is also an assistant coach for the varsity team and the head coach for the girls’ flag football team. He said he was devastated when he found out about the fire just before he was going to bed.

“The first thing that popped up in media outlets was that it was a maintenance shed. I knew it wasn’t a maintenance shed,” Castellano said. “We get our players off to college the best we can. This is equipment they need. You can improvise on some things but not everything.

"This is just devastating right now.”

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