Community support is being sought for a 92-year-old man who lost a lot of his personal possessions in an accidental Christmas Eve fire at Sportsman's Cove Yacht & Racquet Club on San Carlos Island.
Vernon Huntoon, originally from Novi, Mich. (outer suburbs of Detroit), lived alone in unit 206 in the condominium facility. The fire began in unit 205 and affected four of the 12 units within one of the condo association's buildings. Other than unit 205, Huntoon's condo bore the brunt of the fire, which may have been caused by electrical wiring in a bathroom exhaust fan.
"He has pretty much lost all of his worldly possessions," said Fort Myers Beach Fire Control District Capt. Ron Martin.
Beach Fire Capt. Chris Morgani lifts a box of Huntoon’s personal items into a donated U-Haul truck with the assistance of CERT team leader Alan Vacks and assistant team leader Ed Milde.
While Huntoon's condo is paid off, he did not have insurance, so fire damage remodeling costs will have to come out of his pocket. It may take up to six months before he is able to return to his living quarters.
Martin and many fire personnel members from Fire Station #32 and the Beach's Community Emergency Response Team went beyond the call of duty the day after Christmas by packing up salvageable items and loading them into a U-Haul truck (donated unanimously) and other service vehicles for transportation to Kelly Road Self Storage, which donated at least one storage unit until Huntoon can move back in.
According to Sportsman's condominium president Richard Smith, an account has been set up for donations at Fifth Third Bank if anyone is interested in providing monetary contributions. The Beach Kiwanis have offered donations from their thrift store, while Huntoon's friends and distant relatives George Lowrimore and Marcela Talley have offered the use of Lowrimore's unused condo in Bonita Springs. The two live together at Bell Tower Park.
"The condo is furnished with a washer and dryer. He should be very comfortable," said Lowrimore.
"I didn't know I had so many friends," said Huntoon. "Everybody has been really accommodating."
Huntoon stayed at his girlfriends' home for two days after the fire. Before the fire, he would take the 21-mile drive down to her Bonita Springs residence two to three times a week.
As of Dec. 26, Huntoon did not have a chance to check how many of his possessions in the two-story townhouse were saved. Fellow condo owners and volunteers boxed up everything that was salvageable. Third floor items such as a flat-screen television, photos and other mementos were lost, but second floor objects, like his bed, other furniture and Christmas presents, were saved.
Bob Mullen and his wife, Karin, the condo association treasurer who began the donations account, were two of the volunteers helping in the recovery of Huntoon's personal items. His fishing equipment, held in an outdoor storage room, was untouched.
"We managed to save his Christmas presents," said Mullen, "and some of his photos."
If anyone is interested in helping the displaced man, either stop by any Fifth Third Bank (the account is set up at the branch off of Summerlin Road next to Ruby Tuesdays) or call a Fifth Third Bank representative at 1-800-972-3030 for more information.
The start of the fire
The fire that occurred in unit 205 at Sportsman's Cove is being ruled as accidental and believed to be an electrical fire in origin in the second floor bathroom exhaust fan, according to Beach Fire Capt. Martin.
"The fire came in at 7:30 a.m. It took us about 25 minutes to get the fire under control," he said. "Our crews made a real good aggressive fire attack. It was a quick stop."
Iona-McGregor Fire Department assisted the Beach Fire Department, which was represented by Capt. Chris Morgani, Eng. Joe DeVito, fire fighter Tate Sturtevant and fire prevention specialists Bill Genevrino and Reagan Bauman two days after the fire. CERT team leader Alan Vacks and assistant team leader Ed Milde also assisted with the removal of Huntoon's items.
The fire affected four units in the 12-unit building. Unit 205 was a total loss, Huntoon's living area on the second floor was heavily damaged, and the two lower units (105 and 106) suffered heavy water damage.