MARATHON -- Just hours after fire tore through their upstairs apartment, Nicki Dutton and boyfriend Ryan Lavigne sat, hot and exhausted, on a nearby sidewalk.
Sitting with them was landlord Linda Lee Byars. The three were offering each other comfort.
"We'll get through this. It's just more work," Byars said. "We're all OK, and that's all that matters."
On Monday July 23, at noon, the second-story apartment over the Byars' music store and used furniture business burst into flames. The coconut telegraph went into overdrive and both Dutton and Byars received multiple phone calls from concerned friends letting them know the place was ablaze.
According to Marathon Fire Chief John Johnson, early indications are that a box fan and faulty extension cord were to blame. The apartment was a complete loss and, according to Dutton and Lavigne, a stroke of both good and bad luck.
The good news: the couple had left just moments before the blaze; the bad news: they were leaving to retrieve the last load of household items on what was to have been the move-in date for their new apartment lease.
"I lost everything -- dishes, clothes, my spices. I lost a hand-carved wooden Colombian chest. And I lost my vinyl collection. They were irreplaceable. I had Led Zeppelin, Heart, Dark Side of the Moon," Dutton said.
The young couple from St. Augustine moved to the Florida Keys less than a year ago. She works as a server at Castaways and he is a musician. They were looking forward to living over Marathon's only music store.
Fortunately, the ground level business wasn't a complete loss, Byars said. The roof over the used furniture side of the operation caved in and most of the goods beneath it were destroyed. Inventory loss on the music side of the store was minimal.
"The guitars [on the wall] look OK, but we lost some amplifiers that were sitting on the floor," Byars said.
Byars said she thought the music store might have had up to three or four inches of water accumulate from the fire squelching efforts.
And while the building's owner has insurance to cover the building losses, the music store and used furniture shop, which Byars rents, are not covered. Dutton and Lavigne also have no coverage.
"I was able to get some clothes and things from the Salvation Army, so that's good," Dutton said. "And my two cats were still at the old apartment, so they were OK. Thank goodness, they are like my kids."