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Family escapes Bradenton house fire

BRADENTON -- Residents remained shaken after escaping unharmed from their home after a fire early Friday.

Barbara Betz was awakened from her sleep at about 1:40 a.m. to the sound of popping. Thinking there was a burglar outside on her carport, she awakened her husband, George Betz, but they quickly realized that the back of their home was engulfed in flames.

"He could see the whole car, like the paint was on fire," she said. "'Get out, I'll get Greg," she said her husband shouted.

The couple and their 28-year-old son made it out unscathed.

The Bradenton Fire Department responded to the home in the 2400 block of Seventh Avenue West. Bradenton Police also responded to assist.

The cause of the fire was unknown but Fire Marshall Kenneth Langston led a crew of inspectors as they searched for clues Friday morning.

The homeowners stood by, unable to sleep much and making their calls to insurance companies.

"I'm still in shock, I think, because I haven't even cried yet," Barbara Betz said.

She was overwhelmed by the support she had received, she added. Neighbors poured into the street.

"I just couldn't believe the people, they stayed awake with us for hours," she said.

Before sunrise, Red Cross of Sarasota had already responded to provide aide to the family. They gave them gift cards for food and clothes and informed the family a representative from the Manatee County Red Cross would be by later with hotel

vouchers.

A neighbor gave them a bed, where they rested, unable to sleep.

Neighbor Valorie Jackson Bell, who lives four houses down from the couple, was among the many who stopped by on her way to work to see if the family needed anything. Bell was also awakened by the popping sound, she said.

"I actually couldn't see the smoke or flames," Bell said. "I saw eight fire trucks, though, so I thought, 'Where's the fire?'"

Damage from the fire included the couple's vehicles.

Barbara Betz's red Mazda 3 with less than 5,000 miles sat in the destroyed car port, unrecognizable. She said her laptop and gear were destroyed in the car. The front end of her husband's Mazda ZX13 appeared to have been melted by the fire.

"It could have been a lot worse," the 27-year veteran school nurse with the Manatee County School District said.

The home, built in 1925, had original hardwood floors, stucco and windows.

George Betz, who builds houses, said he plans to rebuild what was destroyed. He, too, thought there had been a burglary, not a fire.

"When we saw the fire, there was no smoke in the house," he said. "The smoke detectors hadn't even gone off yet."

Jessica De Leon, Herald law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.

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