James Blake: Former tennis star's home near Tampa catches fire, 4 killed

Blake not home at the time

NEAR TAMPA, Fla. - The blaze that burned a home in Tampa’s Avila community where four people were found dead Wednesday appears to have been intentionally set, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.
 
Investigators also found “commercial type” fireworks in the home, said Hillsborough County sheriff's spokeswoman Donna Lusczynski. They are considering the possibility the deaths are the result of a murder-suicide, she said, adding that no conclusions have been made yet.
 
Two adults and two teenagers were found in bedrooms of the home at 16223 Sierra de Avila, she said. Two of them had “upper body trauma.” Investigators are waiting for a medical examiner to determine how the injuries were received.
 
A 911 call came in around 5:45 a.m. to report an explosion and fire at the home. While working to put out the fire, crews quickly found the first two bodies inside.
 
Firefighters initially discovered two bodies. Then a third was found. A fourth discovery was made about 1 p.m.
 
While fighting the fire and searching the residence, crews found fireworks. According to a sheriff's statement, "it is undetermined what kind of fireworks and exactly where they were located."
 

Former tennis player James Blake

James Blake (Getty file photo)

 
 
The home is owned by retired tennis star James Blake, who deputies said had been renting out for two years.
 
Deputies are trying to get surveillance video from nearby homes as part of their investigation.
 
Neighbors told detectives that Blake hasn't lived in the house for a while and was renting it out.
 
Blake was in Connecticut at the time of the fire and was told Wednesday morning about the tragedy.
 
He bought the home in the Avila subdivision in 2005 for $1.5 million, according to Hillsborough County property records. It had five bedrooms and five bathrooms.
 
"It's in the back part of Avila...It's a massive home," said Nacole Revette, a spokeswoman for Hillsborough Fire Rescue.

The names of the victims have not been released by authorities, but one teen who was driving out of Avlia told ABC Action News he knew the victims and was close with one of them.

"I was really good friends with him, he hasn't done anything to anyone ever, and the daughter, she was beautiful and their parents were great people. It's just so bad this happened," he said through tears.

The fire proved extremely difficult to extinguish, said Hillsborough Sheriff's spokesperson Donna Lusczynski. Hot spots continued to burn and at one point, the fire re-ignited inside the 7,600 square-foot home.

As of noontime, firefighters were still dousing flames.  Detectives have not been able to enter the home and are waiting for it to be deemed structurally safe.

Lusczynski said it may be Thursday before sheriff's detectives can gain access.

"We're going to be here for days," she said, adding that's it's too early to determine the cause of the fire or if its origin is suspicious. Neighbors spoke of an explosion and even the sound of bullets.

"We haven't been able to confirm how they died. We haven't been able to search the entire residence," Lusczynski said during a Wednesday morning briefing.

"Due to the magnitude of the structural damage caused by the fire, this investigation will be a slow, meticulous process," the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office said in an afternoon release.

Former tennis star James Blake, 34, was ranked fourth on the ATP world tour in 2006. He also has the James Blake Foundation, an organization dedicated to cancer research, in memory of his father who died of gastric cancer.

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