Bradenton couple's 'shed of dreams' goes up in flames

rdymonds@bradenton.comFebruary 19, 2014 

MANATEE -- Dave and Judi Stephens said they are thankful it was only their large wooden shed and not their adjacent 1920s, yellow, two-story home containing their pet dogs that went up in flames at 3:22 p.m. Tuesday at 303 37th St. W. while the couple was at work.

"Everyone is alive and well so that's all good," said Judi Stephens, a ninth-grade teacher at Bayshore High School, about three hours after the intense fire destroyed the shed but didn't touch their home, which was once owned by the Fogerty boat-building family.

This was no ordinary wooden shed with a metal roof that 14 firefighters on three engines from West Manatee Fire & Rescue and Bradenton Fire Department found fully involved with flames but doused in roughly eight minutes.

The shed contained Dave Stephens' lifetime collection of boats, bats, balls and gloves, his wife said.

It contained two giant pitching machines and a dirt pitching mound hand-crafted by Stephens, a lineman at Tampa Electric known in Manatee County for coaching young baseball players.

It was also a shed where Stephens' family friends would just come by and relax in its shadow.

"It's kind of like the gathering spot," Judi Stephens said. "Everyone stops by the man cave, especially after a game."

The shed also contained three kayaks, power boat, bass boat, sailboat, ATV, a freezer filled with meat and every tool known to mankind, according to Judi Stephens.

"It's a total loss," West Manatee Fire & Rescue Battalion Chief Rich Losek said of the fire-blackened shed. Damage estimates were not immediately available.

"Dave and friends were building a large pitching mound in the shed to exact specifications for The Beach Dogs baseball team at the Police Athletic League," Stephens added.

Losek said the cause was still under investigation, but Stephens said officials have a hunch the fire was caused by faulty wiring on the power boat.

"They think it might have been something that they had started on before," Stephens said. "It wasn't plugged in or anything. It must have been smouldering a long time. The fireman said they don't know why the fire didn't start Monday night."

Byron Horst, a Saint Stephen's Episcopal School maintenance man who was working in the school's athletic fields directly west of the Stephens' property, called 911.

"My son and I were here working and he saw the smoke," Horst said. "It must of just started. Flames were getting high into the trees. I was more worried about the properties around it. I would describe it as hot and fast. Thankfully, it wasn't a windy day."

Losek said the fire was intense because the wooden shed contained lots of wood inside.

"It's sad," Horst said. "The Stephens are real nice people. I know he was working on that mound for Little League kids there. They've really done a good job fixing up their home."

Stephens said when she got a call at school about the fire she hit the panic button.

"I was terrified it was my home where we have two dogs inside," she said. "I was so relieved when I saw it wasn't our home."

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7045 or contact him via Twitter@ RichardDymond.

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