Michael Saunders’ sister loses Longboat Key home in blaze

The Lands End home was completely engulfed in flames.

Staff Writer

The old Longboat Key marina where real estate maven Michael Saunders’ mother ran a business is part of the family compound known by locals as ‘Lands End’. About a decade ago, Michael Saunders’ home caught fire and Saunders lost not only her home, but many of her belongings.

Last Thursday, across a bayou in the 700 block of Land’s End Drive, her sister — Joan Bergstrom — lost her home to a devestaing fire that rendered the structure a total loss. No one was injured and Bergstrom and her grandson escaped unharmed.

At approximately 10 a.m. Wednesday morning, 10 Longboat Key fire rescue responders along with two trucks and five firefighters from West Manatee as well as one truck and two firefighters from Sarasota County arrived on scene in response to a 911 call.

According to reports, Bergstrom was in the house along with her grandson when the fire broke out.

Town Public Works employee Jason Schmidt, who was working in the area, realized someone might still be inside.

Schmidt was checking water meters in the area when he noticed a thick cloud of smoke. He jumped in his golf cart and headed toward Lands End.

As he arrived on the property he could hear sirens in the distance. He ran up to the building, broke down the door and screamed to see if anyone was inside. He even took a step inside, however, the strong force of the full blaze pushed him back.

Luckily the homes’ occupants had escaped out the back.

According to Town Fire Chief Paul Dezzi if this magnitude of a blaze had happened in the middle of the night this story would not have a good ending.

When Town Manager Dave Bullock heard of Schmidt’s actions he said, “I am proud to have someone of that character as part of the Town’s team.”

Dezzi reported that Bergstrom’s home was not equipped with fire alarms. Added to that danger the home is an older wood structure built out of cypress wood. And though there was a fire extinguisher on hand Bergstrom said she did not know how to use it. The three factors were calamitous for the home, as it was completely destroyed.

The fire reportedly broke out in a middle bedroom used to store paintings.

Responders to the scene worked to contain the fire and according to Dezzi had the blaze contained to the home within 20 minutes and had the fire completely extinguished within one hour.  The responders also worked to prevent damage to nearby structures, including a neighboring home and the original marina dock where the family had operated a small marina business.

Dezzi stated that when responders arrived at the scene the structure was completely engulfed on all four sides and the roof was collapsing.

“It was a fast moving fire. What happened was with the conditions of heavy wind and the house being build built with cedar wood, a fire in that type of structure with those surrounding conditions moves quickly.”

Dezzi said, “Our objective was to do a defensive attack to protect a nearby home that was exposed.”

Dezzi called immediately and requested the State Fire Marshall respond to the home to start an investigation. Our Longboat Key Fire Marshall along with West Manatee Fire Marshall and the State Fire Marshall started an investigation. They go the structure and speak with the occupants.

It was determined that there was faulty heater; most likely installed in the 1960s. The heater was built into wall. Bergstrom saw flames coming from that heater in the middle room.

One Longboat Key Firefighter sustained burns on his back but not treated and he his fine now.

Dezzi wants to stress two things to Longboat Key residents: 1) make sure that your home is protected by working and regularly maintained smoke detectors and 2) If you have a fire extinguisher know how to use it.

Dezzi said that those two steps are lifesavers.

For residents who have fire extinguishers and would like training free training is offered at the Longboat Key Fire Department Headquarters.

Dezzi and his staff employee the PASS method when training for fire extinguishers.

P=Pull the pin.

A=Aim the extinguisher.

S=Squeezed down on trigger.

S=Sweep from right to left.

Residents are encouraged to call fire department to schedule training at (941) 316-1944.


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1 Response for “Michael Saunders’ sister loses Longboat Key home in blaze”

  1. So sorry to hear this news –Was down to visit Tom Mayers (known him since we were kids in the 60’s) at Lands End a couple years ago…Happy to hear no one was hurt – Tom producedd a video of the history of Land’s End and Longboat Key recently and posted it to YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9wT8h8dmAUc

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