A man died at his home in an early-morning fire Saturday on Westmayer Place, a dirt road off of A1A at the north end of Flagler Beach. The double-wide trailer was engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived at the scene, and was demolished by the fire. But none of the houses nearby, along a heavily wooded road, were affected. It was the first death in a house fire in Flagler County since an elderly woman died at her home in Palm Coast almost two years ago.
The Flagler Beach Fire Department’s Engine 11 was first on scene, finding the structure “fully involved” when it got there, Lt. Stephen Cox, who established command, said this afternoon. “Basically, the house was a ball of fire,” he said, compelling firefighters immediately to take defensive positions, bring the fire under control to keep it from spreading, and then take it out. The Palm Coast Fire Department and Flagler County Fire Rescue, the Palm Coast Fire Police and the Flagler Beach Police Department all responded.
The fire started sometime between 4 and 5 a.m. The identity of the man who died in the fire has not yet been released. He is believed to have been in his 50s. The house has been owned by Daniel and Laurie Steflik of Elko, Nev., since 2005, but was not homesteaded, suggesting that the occupant was a renter. The most that could be gleaned about the resident this afternoon was that he subscribed to the Wall Street Journal: the paper was still in its paper box this afternoon, with a note from the resident’s carrier telling him she was going on vacation and was hiring a substitute carrier, or would reimburse him should he decide to buy any papers in her absence.
Christina, a new homeowner across the street from the scene of the fire (she asked to be identified only by her first name) has owned the new house on Westmayer–a two-level structure–only since June, and has just gotten to know neighbors. She described the man across the street as someone who kept to himself.
Christina’s bedroom’s windows give onto the porch that fronts the street. She was having a fitful night, she said. Just before five o’clock this morning she was “kind of restless, it was in and out,” she said, when she heard a sound she found difficult to describe. She called it “a mild explosion, something that preceded a shudder to the house,” she said, though she specified that it was a mild shudder. Being in a new house she thought it was another one of those “settling” sounds. “I thought my house was settling again,” she said. Still, the house moved a little.
“I didn’t think of anything at that point. I guess I fell asleep again. All of a sudden. I started hearing crackling sounds. And I’m thinking, what the heck is that? I open my eyes and I see a bright light streaming through the blinds–this is my bedroom,” she points to the corner room from the upstairs porch of the house, where the interview took place, “and I get out of bed, I open up the doors, and then I see this fireball.” She points across the road to the crest of the trees, some of them visibly burnt. “It was actually higher than that. It was just a humongous fire going on over there. There were plumes of ash, soot, cinders,” which she said air currents were taking east straight up to A1A.
Christina’s daughter and granddaughter were in the house at the time. She called 911 and was told to take everyone in the house, drive up to A1A and wait there: authorities were concerned that the fire could quickly spread. There are few homes along Westmayer, and the three at the end of the cul de sac west of the fire, Christina said (after speaking with those neighbors) had “slept through it all,” not hearing anything, likely because of the direction of the wind. The neighbors to her east were out of town.
Within minutes, the first fire engine of several arrived and took up positions along the road. “We had so much activity on the street, it was incredible,” Christina said. Firefighters were there from just after 5 to 1 p.m., ensuring that pop-up fires were put out.
There was little left of the trailer but ash, vague former walls, piles of debris. The resident’s red SUV was parked in a small alcove near the property, unscathed. But just behind a thin buffer of still-green brush, it was all black and gray devastation, rising up in a semi-circle to what was left of high palm trees and other vegetation.
Neighbors had spoken of three cats being in the residence: “They all made it out,” Cox, the Flagler Beach Fire Department lieutenant, said. But there was no way to save the resident, given the state of the fire when firefighters arrived. The state fire marshal is investigating the fire, Cox said, so a cause has not yet been determined–or released.
Christina, as any observer would be, was impressed by the efficiency of the firefighters, who managed to keep the blaze to a small area despite the fuel-rich vegetation on three sides of the structure and the fact that the trailer was already all flames, rising up to the tree canopy, when the first firefighters arrived.
“I’m telling you, they moved so quickly, this could have been so devastating for this street,” Christina said. “They moved very quickly. So that was good. I’m very grateful.” She added moments later: “It was tense. We were anxious and very tense and I hope this never happens again on this street.”
Cox, describing the maneuvers firefighters executed to contain and put out the fire, said “everyone did their job real well, all agencies.”
On Nov. 12, 2012, Edith Moss, 88, died after a fire that had started in her garage on 8 Floral Court in Palm Coast spread to the rest of the house. She had called 911 to report the garage fire, but told the dispatcher that she was unable to leave the house.