LAKEWOOD RANCH — Nearly two weeks after a fire made her home unlivable, Paula Carmassi sat on a black leather couch with her neighbor, Kim Gennocro, and giggled.
For the first two nights after the fire, which occurred just after 6 p.m. Dec. 30, when the family’s Christmas tree caught fire, Carmassi and her family — husband, Brad, and their 13-year-old son, Zak — slept on this couch inside Gennocro’s home.
Since the fire, likely caused by an electrical problem at the outlet in which the Christmas tree lights were plugged, the family’s mood has been inconsistent.
“My son loves computer games, and one of them requires him to use a password,” said Carmassi, a nurse at Lakewood Ranch Medical Center. “I told him to not use our address for the password because we don’t have one.”
On the night of the fire, Carmassi felt relieved.
That night, the Carmassis were home.
In the kitchen, Carmassi was flipping hamburgers, covered with bacon and blue cheese.
Zak was playing on the computer in his bedroom.
Brad Carmassi heard his wife shout from another room. He extinguished most of the fire with a hose, while the family waited for firemen (see sidebar on page 1A).
After the fire blackened the interior of the Carmassis’ home, melting the television and shrinking the Christmas tree to a small piece of burned wood, Gennocro offered the family a place to stay.
“It was instinctual,” said Gennocro, a nurse with Humana who works from her home, which is within sight of the Carmassis’ house. “We’re friends. We’re moms. And we’re nurses. We care for people.”
A hand-written note on the door to Gennocro’s home reads, “Please leave donations for the Carmassi family on the porch. Thank you for all your support, thoughts and prayers.”
In the days after the fire, Gennocro recruited the assistance of homeowners on their street, Forest Park Circle, through the Central Park Facebook page.
Visitors dropped off clothes, toiletries and gift cards for the Carmassis.
Because of their houseguests, Gennocro and her daughters, Angela, 16, and Julia, 13, shared their space.
But the families were used to sharing.
Julia and Zak are long-standing carpool buddies. Carmassi, who works the night shift, normally drives them to Braden River Middle School in the morning.
Gennocro picks them up.
But, since the fire, Carmassi shuttles Zak both ways. She took a week off from work after the fire to regain control of their lives.
After two nights of sleepovers at Gennocro’s home, the Carmassis have lived in two rooms at the Residence Inn across from the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport.
The family dog, Crosby, an 80-pound boxer/German shepherd, is at the hotel. But the family cat, Autumn, is staying with in-laws, who have cats of their own, to recoup.
Expenses incurred because of the displacement — new furniture, hotel costs, repairs to their home — are covered by the Carmassis’ homeowners insurance.
Their insurance carrier, AAA Insurance, connected the family with Housing Headquarters, an emergency relocation service that is helping the Carmassis find a rental home.
Repairs to their Central Park home could take three to four months.
“I feel displaced, like I don’t have a place to live,” Carmassi said. “Everything I do, I am careful about. I don’t want to buy too many groceries because I have nowhere to put them.”
Carmassi comes face to face with the effects of the fire almost every day. She visits her home often to greet a stream of contractors — whom AAA Insurance provides — who will assess and repair it.
The home’s light blue and yellow paint is still visible. There is only minimal smoke damage to the front and back doors of the home.
An engineering firm inspected the home for the cause of the fire. The company has not released the results, but Carmassi speculates a malfunctioning outlet caused it.
Greg Maxwell, of Paul Davis Restorations, a contractor who will rebuild the home, gathered most of the family’s belongings and stored them in a warehouse.
There, he will clean clothes and paintings and utensils, wipe them down and put them in an ozone chamber that will rid them of smoke odor.
A few of the belongings, such as a torn couch with its foam stuffing exposed, are not salvageable.
Bruce Williams Homes built the Carmassis’ home in April.
This week, Housing Headquarters found a condo in Lakewood Ranch’s Willowbrook community for the Carmassis to rent, and Carmassi is thankful.
“I couldn’t imagine this support anywhere else,” Carmassi said. “I didn’t know many of the people who helped us get through this. How can I thank them?”
In response to the fire at the Carmassis’ home Dec. 30, a confusing navigation situation inside the Central Park community delayed the East Manatee Fire Department.
There are two neighborhoods inside Central Park that have the same street — Forest Park Circle, where the Carmassis live — running through them. Fire crews stopped at the first neighborhood, Brickell Park, which is gated. They waited a few minutes before making it to the Carmassis’ neighborhood, Forest Park.
While he waited, Brad Carmassi used a hose to douse the fire. He later was treated for smoke inhalation at Lakewood Ranch Medical Center.
Contact Josh Siegel at [email protected]