Condominium fire burns for hours before extinguishing itself

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

By SEAN ERNST, Staff Writer



Authorities are investigating a Marco Island condominium fire that they say caused $150,000 worth of damage before extinguishing itself either late Sept. 15 or early Sept. 16.

The fire, confined mostly to the kitchen of an unoccupied second-floor apartment at Les Falls Condominium, started sometime on the night of Sept. 15 but went undetected by building management until about 7 a.m. the next day, said Marco Fire Marshal John Burback.

The apartment belongs to Raymond Fortune, owner of Fortunes Steak and Seafood restaurant.

Investigators determined that the fire originated inside the dishwasher and eventually caused the water supply line under the kitchen sink to break, Burback said. Water spewing from the line helped put out the fire before firefighters arrived from Marco, East Naples and Isles of Capri.

The fire may have further contributed to its own demise by finally consuming too much oxygen to sustain itself inside the closed apartment, said Marco Fire Division Chief Scott Schultz.

"Basically, the fire created an environment where it couldn't sustain combustion," Schultz said. "It's an unusual situation. It's happened maybe a couple of times before (on the island), where you get a contained fire that self-extinguished. It's uncommon, but it does happen."

Investigators will send the remains of the dishwasher to a laboratory in order to determine the precise cause of ignition, Burback said. He would not speculate on the cause, but he said a short circuit was one of several possibilities.

Rick Yacono, building manager of Les Falls, 870 S. Collier Blvd., noticed a faint odor of smoke late Sept. 15 but could not locate the source. There was no smoke coming from any windows on either side of the building, and neither of the apartment's two smoke detectors sounded. Investigators later found that one detector had no batteries and the other had dead batteries, Burback said.

Yacono said he thought the odor may have been drift smoke from an Everglades brush fire.

But when building Superintendent Paul Kratochvil noticed water leaking onto the ground floor early Sept. 16, he opened the door to unit 203 ó two floors directly above the leak ó and discovered heavy smoke throughout the apartment.

When firefighters arrived, they found the kitchen had sustained most of the fire damage. Flooding from the broken water line had soaked carpets in the living room and bedrooms.

Water also had leaked into unit 103, an unoccupied apartment directly below unit 203.

Burback said Fortune had left his apartment Sept. 15 around 4:30 or 5 p.m. Because of mildew problems in the apartment, he had been staying part-time at the nearby Apollo condominium, Yacono said.

Fortune could not be reached for comment at his restaurant Sept. 16.