Ormond man loses home, saves computer in morning fire

By JAY STAPLETON
Staff Writer

Last update: 08 December 2003


ORMOND BEACH -- A 68-year-old homeowner dropped his wife off at Orlando International Airport Monday morning and returned to find his home on the Tomoka River in flames, officials said.

Jim Bertrand, a retiree who runs an Internet business, drove his wife to Orlando for a flight to Seattle at 8:30 a.m.

He pulled into his driveway at 385 Coquina Avenue five hours later to find the front of his house intact, but only a charred shell at the rear where a deck and hot tub had been.

Firefighters said the house, built in 1961 and remodeled over the years, was all but destroyed. Firefighters responded to the fire at 12:01 p.m., officials said.

Bertand kept a cool head, recited The Serenity Prayer for strength in the face of "things I cannot change," and walked to the back of the house to survey the worst damage.

Then he asked firefighters to rescue his computer from inside. Moments later, a county firefighter emerged from the smoke carrying the hard drive. "All of my records are on that computer," Bertrand explained.

Bertrand was also able to retrieve some artwork painted by his wife, as well as clothing and photographs, said Walter Nettles, a spokesman for Volusia County Fire Services.

The cause of the fire was later determined to be an electrical problem with the heating system, Nettles said.

Bertrand said he smelled "something electrical " in the morning and searched the attic, but found no cause for alarm.

Some neighbors questioned whether having fire hydrants in the Tomoka Estates subdivision -- an unincorporated part of Volusia County just outside Ormond Beach -- would have made fighting the fire easier.

County fire officials said in a statement "water was not an issue in putting the fire out."

They blamed the construction of the house -- not a lack of water -- on making fighting the fire more difficult.

Firefighters shuttled water to the fire using a tanker truck and at least 1,000 gallons of water was on hand at all times, officials said.

"At no time did we ever run out of water," Nettles said.

The original roof of the house was flat and a pitched roof had been added later, making it hard for firefighters to extinguish the flames.

"It took approximately two hours to completely put the fire out," Nettles said, "due to the difficulty with the number of roofs."

The home is appraised at $109,000. Bertrand said he was fully insured and plans to rebuild.

jay.stapleton@news-jrnl.com