Rick Belhumeur, the Flagler Beach city commissioner, had sold Leonard Fries the boat that sat in front of Fries’s now-demolished house on South Daytona Avenue a while back. The boat, almost as old as the house, was spared. The 63-year-old house, which burned overnight, starting at 3 a.m and into dawn, is a total loss. Belhumeur surveyed the scene on a couple of occasions this morning. When he texted Fries to inquire about him, Fries, the owner of Lenny’s New York Pizza on South Nova Road in Ormond Beach, texted back: No insurance. I’m screwed. All my money was in the house.”
It was one of two fires Flagler Beach firefighters battled this weekend. The first took place Friday afternoon at the north end of town, at the hulking three-story, salmon-colored structure at the corner of 9th Street and North Oceanshore Boulevard (see a video here). Authorities said an electrical panel at the back end of the structure caught fire, burning parts of a copse of palm trees there and penetrating only partially into the structure, though firefighters had to pierce the wall in a few places to ensure that the fire wasn’t spreading. Much of the rest of the 5,000-square-foot building, built 30 years ago, looks intact. No one was injured.
For Fries’s house, it’s a different story.
“We were on a call on A1A right before it,” the Flagler Beach Fire Department’s Lt. David Kennedy, who took command of the house fire scene, said, referring to his crew at about 3 a.m. this morning. “and we were driving back to the station on A1A. We smelled a lot of smoke, we drove through heavy smoke. We turned around on 12th or 13th and came up Central, and when we got to about Central and 14th is when we got paged out. So we were just two blocks away. When we pulled up there was heavy fire right here.” The firefighters were paged at 3:04 a.m. (When Kennedy was recounting the night’s work this morning, he had been on duty about 27 hours.)
He pointed to the central area of the one-level house, what would have been the living room, flanked on the south side of the house by a garage and on the other by what appeared as a later addition to the house. Property records show only a deck and a brick patio added in 2012, with the rest all built in 1953.
When firefighters arrived at the scene, a neighbor told them that he believed the house was occupied. It wasn’t, but the firefighters’ initial moments were carried out on the assumption that residents were still inside. When Kennedy got to the back of the house, the back door was melted, and his reading on the thermal imagining camera read over 800 degrees in the central room. “So when I came back around, I had the first unit just start hitting the fire from the outside here and had Engine 92 do a VES, a vent-entered search of the bedrooms along the side there, because at this time we were going with the [assumption] that there’s people in here.”
Once the search was conducted, the neighbor told the firefighters he’d just been on the phone with the homeowner, who was out of town.
The fire had spread throughout the attic, and within a couple of minutes of the firefighters arriving at the scene, it had “vented” through the roof, “meaning it burned a hole—it had been burning for a good while—and it burned a hole in the roof,” Kennedy said. “Once it does that, it just pulls that oxygen and it just goes quicker.”
Firefighters then went into a defensive posture, pulling up the aerial with the department’s new “quint” firetruck and drenching the house from above and with hand-lines.
The state fire marshal was called in. She couldn’t determine a cause, but so far nothing suspicious was detected. The fire marshal and Kennedy agreed that the fire had likely started in the living room ceiling. After breaking the window, it got oxygen to feed it, then sent it more quickly spreading through the ceiling. The ceiling formation was made of a “re-roof,” making it more difficult for firefighters to penetrate and fight fires.
None of the neighbors were threatened. There was a helpful wind from the south, opposite the property at the south end of the burning house. Not even the old, wooden fence separating the two properties got too hot during the fire. None of the neighbors, there or across the street, had to be evacuated. But Kennedy said the homeowner was lucky not to have been home when the fire started.
The fire truck crews were at the scene until around 7 p.m., including Flagler Beach’s Ladder 11 Flagler County’s Engine 92 and Rescue 11 and 91, Palm Coast’s Engine 25, plus the county’s Battalion 91, Engine 16 and Flagler Beach volunteer firefighters. The Flagler Beach crew cleared the scene at 9 a.m. The crew returned two hours later to ensure that the fire was out. No one was injured.
Initially, however, Belhumeur said cops helped firefighters hook up their lines, as the Flagler Beach firefighters were short-handed. “It would help if we had another person on the truck,” Kennedy said, nudging Belhumeur, who was at the scene this morning.
“I’ve already talked to Larry,” Belhumeur responded, referring to Larry Newsome, the city manager, though Belhumeur himself is not keen on adding firefighters. He was not a commissioner during the long controversy surrounding the acquisition of the quint fire truck. But he had opposed that acquisition.
Kennedy was with one other firefighter when he arrived at the scene. “To give you the honest truth in a situation like this is, I have to get off the truck, do my 360”—that is, a complete walk-around evaluation of the burning structure—“and then we have to pull the line, he’s got to be pumping, it’s really impossible with two people,” he said.
In a brief interview later, Belhumeur said: “Obviously they’re going to be asking for more people. Larry was hinting that way—well they’ve got this new fire truck, now they want more people. He’s listening to them, at least. My position hasn’t changed. I think they should have negotiated with the county. The firefighters have better pay, better benefits.”
The fire department would still in the heart of Flagler Beach, Belhumeur said, and according to what county Fire Chief Don petito said, the Flagler Beach station would be modernized. “The city just can’t afford a 21st century fire department, it’s not big enough,” Beluhumeur said. “It costs a frigging fortune. So I don’t know, I think it’s going to cause a real stink bomb if it comes to the city commission.”
As far as fighting this morning’s fire, however, “all crews worked their butt off and did a great job,” Kennedy said. “One of those things you don’t want to happen to people, but it brings all the firefighters and surrounding agencies together.”