Lakewood Ranch Herald

Lightning suspect in LWR house fire

LAKEWOOD RANCH — As rain pelted an umbrella he stood under, prominent attorney and owner of Lakewood Ranch’s Center for Faith and Freedom, Stuart Roth, looked on Wednesday as firefighters assessed the damage a lightning strike is believed to have caused his home.

East Manatee Fire Rescue Fire Marshal George Ellington said lightning may have sparked the 5 p.m. blaze, which is believed to have caused between $700,000 and $800,000 in damage.

Roth’s home, in the 7000 block of Portmarnock Place, is valued at nearly $1.5 million, according to Manatee County Property Appraiser records.

“I don’t know if I have the strength to talk about this,” Roth said of the damage. “I am expecting the worst.”

Ellington said seven fire engines and 25 firefighters responded to battle the blaze, which was under control in about 45 minutes.

Firefighters arrived to find a fire that appeared to have started in the attic and then spread to other parts of the house. The blaze is still under investigation, but a lightning storm tore through the area around the time the fire broke out, Ellington said.

No one was home when the fire broke out, and firefighters reported no injuries. “I was at work,” Roth said.

Roth owns the Center for Faith and Freedom in Lakewood Ranch, an organization that primarily makes multimedia productions for nonprofit charity groups with the center’s Salt and Light Productions company.

He is also a prominent attorney with the Washington, D.C.-based American Center for Law & Justice, a Christian legal advocacy group.

Roth has appeared before federal district and appellate courts throughout the nation in defense of civil and religious liberties, according to ACLJ’s Web site.

He is a member of the bar in Georgia, Alabama and the District of Columbia, and is also admitted to the U.S. Supreme Court and federal appellate courts throughout the country, the Web site said.

Outside his house, Roth stood with friend Doug Dodson, a Florida Highway Patrol lieutenant.

“This is the worst case scenario for anyone, coming home to see your house on fire,” Dodson said.

And it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy, according to neighbor Julie Aranibar.

“He has done so many things to help people. He is such a great person,” Aranibar said. “You look and see what happened and you say, ‘Oh my gosh.’ It is just so sad.”

And frightening as well. Aranibar said she heard a deafening boom and looked outside to see an eerie light.

“The whole street was lit up by this bright white light,” she said.

“I went outside and saw a hole in his roof with smoke coming out of it.”

Rhonda Maule, who lives across the street from Roth, said she was working at her desk in her home when a blast shook the neighborhood.

“It sounded like a sonic boom. I went about ten miles in the air,” she said.

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