Feedback
News

Deadly Tampa Fire at James Blake's Home Under Investigation

Flames engulf a house owned by former tennis pro James Blake in this handout photograph provided by the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office in Tampa, Florida. Four people were found dead on Wednesday in a burning mansion owned by Blake, police said. Reuters

A man who died with his wife and two children in a Florida house arson fire Wednesday outside Tampa purchased fireworks over the weekend like those found at the scene.

Authorities have said they think the fire at the five-bedroom home was intentionally set but stopped short of calling the case a murder-suicide.

Darrin Campbell, his wife Kimberly and their two teenagers died in the blaze at the home owned by former professional tennis player James Blake.

The mysterious deaths have stunned Tampa’s exclusive country club community of Avila, where sheriff's deputies returned Thursday morning. Gruesome details in the Wednesday morning inferno revealed that firefighters found fireworks and accelerant amid the rubble, reported NBC affiliate WFLA.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office said Blake was leasing the home for the past two years to the Campbell family.

“We’re still going to have to wait for the medical examiner to determine the exact cause of death and what those particular injuries were,” sheriff’s Col. Donna Lusczynski told reporters.

2:22

Two of the victims were found with upper-body trauma, Lusczynski said without elaborating. The adults were found in one room, while the teenagers were found in two separate rooms.

The blaze was called in before 6 a.m., when neighbors said they heard a “popping” noise coming from the home.

“I was walking my dog and the house just exploded,” a frantic caller said in a 911 call.

“The house is engulfed in flames!” she added.

Officials said small commercial fireworks found at the scene were the likely cause of the explosion.

Darrin Campbell purchased the fireworks on Sunday, William Weimer, vice president of Phantom fireworks, told The Associated Press on Thursday by telephone from the company's Ohio headquarters.

Campbell bought six packages of small firecrackers and about that many packs of aerial fireworks designed to shoot into the air, said Weimer, who described them as backyard fireworks someone would shoot off on the Fourth of July. He said the fireworks could have started a fire but it would have spread slowly.

The amount of powder inside the fireworks was smaller than the size of an aspirin, he said.

Heavy winds made fighting the fire difficult as flames ripped through the two-story, 6,000-square-foot-plus home. At first, crews located two bodies. Then a third, and then a fourth.

“It’s a very arduous task and takes some time just because of the debris from the fire and water damage that was there,” Lusczynski said of sifting through the home, adding that there is still evidence remaining that wasn’t destroyed.

Image: Handout photo of a house owned by former tennis pro James Blake, after a fire in Tampa, Florida
A house owned by former tennis pro James Blake is seen after a fire on May 7, 2014. Four people were found dead. Blake was not inside when firefighters arrived on Wednesday morning, said Debbie Carter, a spokeswoman for the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Department. HANDOUT / Reuters

A former neighbor, George Connley, said Darrin Campbell was the treasurer of Carrollwood Day School, a private school in Tampa attended by the Campbell’s teenage children, Colin and Megan.

“They were a very nice family, we know nothing of any problems,” Connley said. “The kids were outstanding children. This is very difficult to put our arms around.”

He said that Kimberly Campbell was “sophisticated and classy.”

Social media pages for the Campbell kids show that Colin was a standout baseball player. His sister, Megan, enjoyed dancing.

Blake, who retired from professional tennis in 2013, bought the home in 2005 for $1.5 million, according to Hillsborough County property records. It had five bedrooms and five bathrooms.

Avila is an exclusive enclave known for its mansions and heavy security. Many well-known sports figures and athletes, including the Yankees’ Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, have called the gated community home.

Police said they plan to review neighbors’ surveillance footage for any additional evidence.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.