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Date of Issue: March 17, 2005

Seven left homeless, husband jobless after fire

'Everyone's OK. My family's OK, but my children have nothing.' — Sherry Phillips

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Fire crews from the West Manatee Fire and Rescue District along with assistance from Longboat Key firefighters battle the Feb. 10 fire at 2518 Avenue C in Bradenton Beach that left a family of seven homeless. Islander Photo: Courtesy George Meyer

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Roger Phillips along with children Brooke and James found temporary shelter at a local hotel through the American Red Cross after a Feb. 10 fire destroyed their Bradenton Beach apartment. Wife Sherry, children Celeste and Briana, and niece Christina are absent from the photo. Islander Photo: Rick Catlin
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Firefighters come to aid for fire victims
Mike Bugel, left, treasurer of the West Manatee Firefighter's Association, presents Sherry Phillips, right, the victim of an apartment fire Feb. 10, $1,500 and some children's clothing, shoes and toys collected by firefighters to help her family of seven get back on their feet. Christine Alderman, center, resides with the Phillipses and helps care for the young children, including 4-year-old James. Islander Photo: Bonner Joy
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Sherry Phillips, holding the youngest of her four children, either unwilling or unable to view the scene of her apartment on fire behind her, stands by her car parked next to Sharky's restaurant. Islander Photo: Bonner Joy

Moving to Bradenton Beach two weeks ago was supposed to be a new beginning for Roger and Sherry Phillips and their four young children.

The family had spent the past five years in Apollo Beach, but decided on the Island when Roger's employer last month assigned him to work temporarily at a Lido Beach restaurant the company owns.

But the quiet Island atmosphere the Phillipses had sought was shattered around 11:30 a.m. Feb. 10 when an apparent electrical fire destroyed their new apartment along with all their clothes and possessions. The couple did not have renter's insurance.

The tragedy did not begin and end with the fire.

Roger was suspended from his job as a traveling chef with the Rack, Shack and Binion Restaurant Corp. of Plant City because the fire destroyed restaurant files on his computer.

Because of the fire, he was unable to report to work in Atlanta that evening. His job requires him to travel the country as a "fill-in" chef for the corporation, along with assisting the kitchen staff when a new restaurant opens. A Plant City native, he's worked for RSB for five years.

"They said I was suspended until I could get some company information from the computer," he said. "They could care less about the fire, they were more interested in getting the files."

  Unfortunately, the newly purchased computer that James absolutely needed for his job along with the restaurant related files were destroyed in the fire.

"So, I guess I'm going to be fired," he said. "I can't retrieve anything from a computer that's burned up. Everything's gone."

Sherry said at the fire scene that everyone was OK, but "my children have nothing."

The youngest two children have been especially hard-hit. "They keep asking what happened to their Christmas presents. They don't understand that a fire destoyed the toys and everything else we had," James said with a shrug.

"We lost everything we owned," said Sherry. "Our clothes, appliances, pictures, everything. We just moved here for the wonderful family atmosphere and this had to happen. I don't know what we're going to do."

Several Island restaurants have already offered James a job if he needs one, she said. James should know if he still has a job with RSB by the end of this week.

But true to the Island spirit, Islanders are helping the young family. Ed Chiles, owner of the Sandbar restaurant in Anna Maria and Beach House Restaurant in Bradenton Beach, donated meals to the family this past weekend. Sherry said the Beach House manager has already offered Roger a job.

While that's comforting and she's thankful, Sherry worries about the future.

"How do we replace everything?," she asked.

The two oldest children attend Anna Maria Elementary School while the other children stay at home with mom. Roger's niece Christina helps Sherry, who is disabled, with the children. She has only one kidney, which is only 40 percent functional, James said.

"We'll be OK. We're strong. We just have to pray and get through this," he said, noting that the only personal item that survived the fire was a family bible that he's had for years. "We're going to make it once we get another place. This Island is just a great place to live," he added.

The Phillipses absolutely want to stay on the Island and need to find a vacant apartment. The Red Cross is looking to see if they can provide a portion of the funds to get the family settled.

The West Manatee Firefighter's Association, an organization of career firefighters, made a $1,500 cash donation to the family and also collected toys and clothing that they are holding until the Phillipses are relocated.

Sherry said the family can probably stay at a motel for a few more days, but the Red Cross can't keep paying for the rooms.

"We'll keep looking and praying. Everything will work out for the best," she said confidently. "We just love the Island and Anna Maria Elementary. Our kids are doing great there. We're going to stay somehow."

The fire caused an estimated $125,000 worth of damage. The two-story duplex is owned by Anton Lulgjuri and is directly behind Sharkey's Restaurant, which Lulgjuri also owns.

Islander helping Islanders

The Islander newspaper has established a fund to help the Phillips family get resettled on Anna Maria Island, and keep their children at Anna Maria Elementary.

Anyone interested in making a donation to help the Phillipses, or who has a vacant apartment, can contact publisher Bonner Joy at The Islander.

The Phillipses especially need children's clothing, toys, furniture, appliances and an apartment.

For more information, call The Islander at 778-7978, or Sherry Phillips at 718-9461.