FORT LAUDERDALE
10 fire victims homeless

Six fires in three days -- including two on New Year's Day -- have left 10 people in Fort Lauderdale with no place to live.

BY WANDA J. DeMARZO
wdemarzo@herald.com

A malfunctioning surge protector for a home computer and a candle left burning unattended are blamed for two fires that turned five people out of their homes on New Year's Day.

Those blazes were among six home fires in three days in Fort Lauderdale that have collectively left 10 people homeless and caused more than $330,000 in damage.

The first fire Thursday was caused by an electrical short in a surge protector, said Fort Lauderdale Fire Division Chief Stephen McInerny.

In a matter of minutes, flames shot through the bedroom of the duplex at at 1627 SW Fourth Ave.

Kristin Cook and her roommate, Angela Sowers, returned home from a New Year's Eve celebration shortly before 6 a.m. to find smoke seeping into the living room.

''It seemed unreal, like it wasn't really happening,'' Cook said.

Flames were shooting from the computer and desk in Sowers' room. Cook ran next door to get her landlord, Stephen Gaskill.

''I grabbed some pots thinking I could throw water on the fire but literally within minutes, flames were shooting out of the house,'' Gaskill said.

Fort Lauderdale firefighters responded and extinguished the blaze within 20 minutes. Heavy fire gutted the southwest bedroom and hallway.

The two-bedroom, one-bath duplex sustained about $80,000 damage, McInerny said.

Another 10 minutes and it would have spread next door, he said.

''I read The Herald today and my horoscope said my day would be a nine,'' Gaskill said. ``I got a chuckle out of that prediction. Today was not the way to start the New Year.''

Both women lost most of their possessions in the fire. They are staying with family and friends.

''We got some clothes but everything was pretty much gone,'' said Cook, a student at Florida Atlantic University.

''At least we're alive. We were very lucky,'' she said. ``We have some of our clothes and are washing everything today -- twice. Everything is black and covered in soot.''

About 5:30 p.m., an overturned candle started a fire that caused heavy damage to a one-story, two-bedroom home at 2352 NW 13th Ct. in Fort Lauderdale.

The fire was extinguished quickly, but the home was uninhabitable, its walls completely blackened, McInerny said.

Willie Colston, 63, had lived in the house, built in 1954, most of his life. He was living there Thursday with a 39-year-old woman and her 10-year- old son.

Colston had lit the candle and forgot to put it out when he left, McInerny said.

Colston and the two other residents are staying at a hotel, paid for by the the Broward Chapter of the American Red Cross.

Herald staff writer Kevin Deutsch contributed to this report.