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Flames engulfed the home in the 700 block of Land’s End Drive the morning of March 21. Photos courtesy of Longboat Key Fire Rescue
Longboat Key Wednesday, Mar. 27, 2013 4 years ago

Fire razes Land's End home

by: Robin Hartill Managing Editor

A historic 1950s home was destroyed the morning of March 21, after a fire engulfed the home.

The residence at 733 Land’s End Drive was the home of real-estate magnate Michael Saunders’ sister, Joan Bergstrom.

Bergstrom, her daughter and grandson were in the home but escaped without injury before firefighters arrived.

According to Longboat Key Fire Rescue Deputy Chief David Kyle, the department got its first calls about the fire around 9:56 a.m.

Kyle said he could see a thick cloud of smoke as he left the North Fire Station, which is nearly 3 miles away from the home.

The home was fully engulfed in flames and was beginning to collapse by the time firefighters arrived.
According to an email Fire Rescue Chief Paul Dezzi sent to Town Manager Dave Bullock, crews kept the fire contained to the home.

“This fire could have been devastating in that there were three persons in the home when the fire started and all evacuated quickly,” Dezzi wrote. “Also, this home was very close to other homes, and if it were not for the quick actions of the firefighters, the home to the west would have been involved. To make matters worse, the wind that was sustained during this event advanced the fire quickly, engulfing this home in a matter of minutes.”

The fire was under control within approximately 25 minutes, according to Kyle.

The Longboat Observer was unable to reach Bergstrom for comment.

Bergstrom and Saunders’ brother, Tom Mayers, also a Land’s End resident, said Bergstrom moved the house to the north end from mid-Key, near Publix, approximately 25 years ago. She originally used the home as a guest residence before subdividing the property and selling the main home.

The family has a long history at Land’s End.

The siblings’ great-great uncle, John Savarese, was the original settler of Land’s End. He built a vacation home on the edge of the water there around 1914.

During the Great Depression, he failed to pay taxes on the property. In 1936, he gave it to his great niece, Frances Fitzgerald Mayers, and her new husband, Frank Mayers, on the condition they pay the back taxes.
The couple were the parents of Bergstrom, Mayers and Saunders.

Mayers said Bergstrom was preparing to leave for Panama, where she owns an inn, when the fire occurred.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation. It was likely caused by oil paintings leaning up against the home’s heater, according to Mayers. Both the fire extinguisher and hose didn’t work properly, and the fire quickly spread throughout the home.

Bergstrom lost all of her belongings in the fire and was working to get a new passport so that she can return to Panama, Mayers said on Monday afternoon.

“They have to start from scratch to try to get her identity back,” he said.

Mystery man?
Jason Schmidt, Longboat Key Public Works service worker II, was checking meters on his golf cart when he saw the smoke and flames.

He didn’t know all three people had gotten out of the home when he ripped the French doors opened and called out to anyone who might be inside. Flames burst out, and he didn’t see anyone inside, but he heard fire-engine sirens and immediately moved his golf cart out of the way.

“I was just trying to be a good human being and pull anyone out who might be inside,” Schmidt said.

The next day at work, his co-workers were talking about the “mystery man” who braved the fire.

Schmidt has worked for the town for the past year-and-a-half.

“He’s a great worker,” said his supervisor, Public Works Director Juan Florensa. “Apparently, he went above and beyond.”

Coincidentally, the motto Florensa has instilled in his department employees is: “Whatever it takes.”

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