Lakeland Ledger

Published Monday, May 9, 2005

Lakeland Garage Fire Ruins Family Treasures
Flames destroy tools, artwork and four of the couple's collectible cars.

By Dana Willhoit
The Ledger

LAKELAND -- It was a Mother's Day to remember for Debra Elliott, but she'd really rather forget it.

At 8:15 a.m. Sunday, Elliott was getting ready to go to the flea market.

Her husband, Ronald, was in their backyard garage at their home on East Fern Road, south of Gary Road, working on the collectible cars they love to restore. He was doing some welding.

"He walked away from it for just a minute. He came into the front yard and it was all in flames," Elliott said.

The couple tried to put out the fire with a hose but it quickly roared out of control. They called 911, but by the time firefighters were able to extinguish the flames about 30 minutes later, four of their cars, including a 2000 Mustang that was a graduation present for their daughter, a Corvette and a 1965 Barracuda, were burnt shells. Debra Elliott said the vehicles weren't insured.

Their garage, filled with tools and artwork and collectible Barbie dolls belonging to the Elliotts' daughters, was charred and roofless and on the verge of collapsing in on itself.

The heat was so intense it jumped to the trees next to the garage and burned the trunks black.

It was a surreal scene, with half of the spacious yard exquisitely decorated with miniature ponds and islands of flowers ringed by rocks, and the back half a charred ruin. A plastic pond, recently purchased to create another miniature pond, lay melted and warped next to the garage.

The flames did not spread to the house.

Debra Elliott was shaken, but she said things could have been much worse.

"Nobody got hurt. No firefighters got hurt. That was one of my prayers. Don't let a firefighter get hurt."

Elliott and her husband had been working for months to landscape their back yard and get it in tip-top shape because her son and his fiancee plan to get married there next summer.

"We will rebuild," she said. "I guess it's time to call up everyone we've ever helped and tell them, get your butts over here."

Dana Willhoit can be reached at dana.willhoit@theledger.com or 863-802-7550.