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Date of Issue: May 31, 2007

Arson fire causes $50,000 to Holmes Beach home

Mark Pelham is comforted by mother Sheleagh after he escaped from a burning apartment in Holmes Beach last week.

Insert: The northside apartment of an elevated duplex in Holmes Beach caught fire Friday afternoon, with damages estimated at $50,000. West Manatee Fire Rescue firefighters were able to quickly extinguish the blaze, which started at the front entrance. Officials have determined the fire was set deliberately. Islander Photos: Paul Roat

Mark Pelham was napping when he woke up to the smell of smoke at about 3 p.m. Friday. He thought the smell was from the ongoing wildfires that have plagued the region until he noticed flames over the door - the only door - of his upstairs apartment in Holmes Beach.

But the smoke got thicker, said Pelham, 25, and when he saw flames by the front door, he quickly grabbed his dogs Abby and Dakota and got them outside. He tried to put water on the blaze, but it was too intense.

"I didn't have shoes on," he said. "I didn't want to try to run into a burning building."

Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore, who lives nearby, saw the commotion and flames as she drove by the duplex at 6814 Palm Drive and called Holmes Beach Police. Officers responded within minutes to the fire, as did West Manatee Fire & Rescue.

Pelham, a musician with the band "Bootleg," grew up on Anna Maria Island and is the son of Dr. Steve and Sheleagh Pelham. He was treated at the scene for smoke inhalation.

Damage was estimated at $50,000.

West Manatee Deputy Fire Marshall Kurt Lathrop said he has ruled the fire as arson.

"The evidence leads us to believe it was arson," Lathrop said. "We used a canine to check the area by the door, and have sent samples to state laboratories for further study."

Lathrop said that Pelham is not involved in the investigation. "We're not looking at him," he said, but he declined to discuss any other suspects in the fire.

If the suspect or suspects are apprehended, they face first-degree arson and attempted murder charges, Lathrop said.

Lathrop added that Islanders should be aware of the dangers of residences that only have one exit in the event of fire.

"He was lucky to get out without having to launch off the balcony," he added. "People need to consider another way to get out. It was good that the fire was set so high on the door so he could get out from under it."

Fire personnel and equipment from WMFR and Longboat Key responded, as did Manatee County Emergency Medical Services. About 20 personnel were on scene at one point to fight the blaze.

"It wasn't the stove," Pelham said as he slumped on the back of an ambulance. "It was outside."