Home near campus catches fire

Just north of campus, off of 42nd Street, a home in the Sweetwater Oaks housing development was consumed by a fire that may have been started by a lightning strike.

“Preliminarily, it sounds like a lightning strike,” said William Bailey, a Hillsborough County Fire Rescue shift commander. “We will continue an investigation though.”

Bailey arrived at 13710 Lazy Oak Drive, the home of Thomas Stewart, after responding to a call from a passerby at 1:02 p.m. Wednesday. Twenty-four firefighters and nine units arrived at the scene. No one was injured and no surrounding homes were damaged.

Stewart said he was washing dishes when he heard a loud boom and smelled something burning. It wasn’t until he went to his laundry room to investigate where the smell was coming from that he saw smoke coming from his garage.

“What was going through my mind were my mom’s mementos, like her degree from college and all of the awards she had gotten from Hillsborough County … stuff that I knew meant a lot to her,” he said. “I wanted to grab that stuff, but I didn’t have time. I made a command decision to save me and not worry about the rest.”

Stewart said his mother, Carol, passed away in January and had worked on one of the “assistant boards” for the Hillsborough County Commissioners office.

“Right now, I don’t know,” he said. “I’m homeless. I don’t have any clothes. I don’t have any money. I don’t have a car. All I can say is that I’ve got people that are willing to help me and hopefully everything will work out.”

American Red Cross worker Bob Owens said Stewart, who served in the Army for five years, will receive money for food and clothing and three nights in a hotel – the “standard package of support for being out in the field.” Stewart said his friends and neighbors have also offered food and lodging.

In the midst of uncertainty, Stewart said he did receive some hope. A box of his mother’s plaques and other items had been spared from the flames.

“I’m cool,” he said. “I’m sure I’ve lost a lot of pictures, but at least I have some.”

– Additional reporting by Jimmy Geurts