Instead of fireworks, Ashley Parkway fire on July Fourth could have been related to electrical problems, homeowner tells Fire Department

Contents of house a total loss, while Fire Department personnel put estimate of damage to structure at almost $983,000

Sarasota County Fire Department vehicles are positioned on Ashley Parkway in response to a house fire that began late on the night of July 4. Image courtesy Sarasota County Emergency Services via Facebook

A July Fourth fire that destroyed most of the house located at 4228 Ashley Parkway, in the eastern part of Sarasota County, may have started as a result of an electrical problem, a Sarasota County Fire Department report says.

The initial alert, issued by the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office, indicated that fireworks might have been the cause.

Additionally, although the Fire Department requested that the State Fire Marshal’s Office investigate the incident, a representative of that office responded that the office would not get involved because the damage to the structure was less than $1 million, the Fire Department report points out.

A detective with the Fire Marshal’s Office also noted that the information that the Fire Department had provided indicated that the incident was “ ‘consistent with an accidental fire’”; that was another reason no State Fire Marshal Office investigation would be conducted, the detective said.

In response to a News Leader question about why the Sarasota County Fire Department does not conduct its own investigations, county Media Relations Officer Sara Nealeigh responded in a July 13 email on behalf of the department. She provided the following statement: “Sarasota County Fire Department contacts the State Fire Marshal’s Office for investigations.

“The State Fire Marshal’s Office is charged with providing investigations according to [a] Florida State Statute. For more information on investigations, contact the State Fire Marshal’s Office.”

This is a section of Chapter 633 of the Florida Statutes. Image courtesy State of Florida

The primary incident report, which the News Leader received through a public records request, says the blaze resulted in property damage of $982,729.80 and the total loss of the contents, which were valued at $196,545.96.

Prior to the start of the fire, the report notes, the property had a value of $1.3 million. The figure for the value of the contents was the same as the figure above.

The main floor of the house comprised 6,000 square feet, the report adds.

The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office released this photo of the Ashley Parkway house ablaze on the night of July 4. Image courtesy Sheriff’s Office

Firefighters arrived on the scene at 10:24 p.m. on July 4 — 10 minutes after 911 Dispatch received the call about the incident, the report explains. They found “heavy flames through the roof of 50% of the structure.” Beforehand, the report says, law enforcement personnel at the site advised the Fire Department “that there was heavy smoke and flames through the roof,” and a second alarm had been dispatched. Later, the report points out, a third alarm was called in to Dispatch.

The homeowner made the initial 911 call, the report notes; he advised the dispatcher that all of the occupants had been able to get out of the house.

However, as the News Leader reported in its July 8 issue, the homeowner also told the dispatcher that “some animals … were unaccounted for.”

This is a photo of Tosh. Image courtesy of Tricia Bolds, via Facebook

A friend of the family posted on Facebook that the residents had three dogs, one of which was confirmed dead as a result of the fire. A second was safe, that friend pointed out, while the family was searching for a missing 7-month-old Dutch shepherd named Tosh.

In an update on that search, which the News Leader read this week, the family friend wrote that Tosh also had died in the fire. The family members “would like to express their gratitude and appreciation for all the help” in trying to locate her, the friend added.

The homeowner was “put in touch with Red Cross,” the Fire Department report says, but the homeowner told Fire Department personnel that he “had lodging arrangements.”

In regard to the start of the incident, the Fire Department report explains that the homeowner told department personnel that “he and his family were lighting fireworks down by the lake. He stated that when they were done, he put all the used fireworks into a trash can” and placed it at the side of the house. Within an hour, the homeowner added, “[H]e heard a loud bang coming from outside his garage,” the report says.

When he went out to investigate, the report continues, “[H]e saw smoke in his kitchen.”

Then the homeowner told his family members to evacuate the house, and he went back outside, where he saw the air conditioning unit and the overhang of the roof were on fire, the report adds. That was when he called 911, the report says.

While he was on the phone, the report continues, “[T]he fire started to spread into the attic space over his garage.”

At 7:16 a.m. on July 5, the report points out, the homeowner contacted the Fire Department to say that he had remembered things a bit differently than he did during the night. Then the homeowner explained that “he also noted the lights flickering, ‘like they did last night,’ other times over the past week since there was some ‘electrical panel work’ completed by the pool. The homeowner stated that he also remembered the initial fire coming from the [air conditioning] unit and spreading to the garbage can and not starting with the garbage can.”

Image from the State Fire Marshal’s Office webpages

The detective with the State Fire Marshal’s Office “was contacted and made aware of these [modifications] to the homeowner’s story,” the report continues. However, the detective still said he “would not be responding,” the report adds.

Altogether, the Fire Department sent 15 fire suppression units to the scene, eight EMS units and three other vehicles, the report shows. The total number of personnel was 55, it adds, with the majority — 35 — working to contain the fire.

In spite of all of their efforts, the report points out, “[T]he fire continued to grow and spread to the last areas that were unaffected.”

At one point, the report says, the roof collapsed over most of the previously unaffected portion of the first floor. “Due to the instability of the remaining aspects of the roof and second floor,” the report continues, “crews were advised that all firefighting operations would have to happen from the exterior.”

The fire was under control at 11:40 p.m. on July 4, the report points out. However, the last unit did not clear the scene until 10:07 a.m. on July 5, the report notes.

Further, a fire watch was set up on July 5 for the rest of the night. Hoses from Engine 9 were left on the scene for utilization if needed, the report adds.

A second alarm on July 5

This is an aerial view of the house, shown on the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s website, prior to the fire. Image courtesy Property Appraiser Bill Furst

A second alarm at the site came in to 911 Dispatch at 10:30 a.m. on July 5, a separate report says; the responding crew arrived at 10:38 a.m.

The call said that the fire possibly had rekindled, the report explains. The crew of Engine 16 “had just cleared the home from fire watch 20 minutes prior when they were called back for smoke in the front foyer,” the report says.
Upon arrival, the firefighters found “a small amount of smoke” coming from a closet in the foyer. “No flames or embers” were noted at that time, the report adds.

However, the firefighters re-saturated the area where they saw the smoke, along with a second area that they found “to be off gassing.”

The Engine 16 crew would check the house every two hours to make certain that the fire remained extinguished, that report notes.

After that incident, the report adds, the last unit cleared the scene at 11:15 a.m.

The report says that seven fire suppression units, two EMS units and two other units were dispatched to the report that the fire had rekindled. The total number of personnel was 21.