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Todd Waldeck stayed as long as he could Tuesday, fighting back the flames that threatened the Benfield Road stilt home he built with his own hands over 2½ years in the early 1990s.

He left just before 1 p.m. when the fire had overtaken his yard.

Wednesday morning, Waldeck, 56, and his wife, Monique, were combing through the ash to salvage what they could. There’s not much left. Probably nothing.

“Everything is gone,” he said. “The whole house collapsed onto the slab.”

The only things they escaped with were some firearms and some important papers, Waldeck said. Friends helped him get his boats out before the fire took them, too, he said.

The house, at 5180 Benfield Road, is gone, along with three all-terrain vehicles, a rebuilt ’87 Chevy pickup, a travel trailer, a mini-bike and a lifetime’s worth of family photos, movies and grade school art projects made by their two children, who now are adults.

Waldeck’s was one of at least four homes that burned Tuesday in the 7,500-acre inferno south of Alligator Alley and just east of Collier Boulevard. Three others, on Le Buff Road — one street over — also were destroyed.

Waldeck and his wife stayed at a hotel. They have friends in town, “so we’re good,” he said.

They stopped Wednesday afternoon at the Walmart on Collier Boulevard to pick up some clothes to get them through the next few days, a shovel and rake to dig through the remains of their home, cellphone chargers, crackers and bag of Halos Mandarin oranges.

The couple had refinanced the home three times and borrowed against it to pay for medical bills and other expenses, they said. Waldeck said he has some insurance on his home.

“But it wasn’t much," he said. "We don’t think it is going to cover it. We had a mortgage, too.”

Asking for help isn’t really his style.

“We’re pretty proud people,” he said. “We don’t like charity.”

Still, a friend and a family member have set up two GoFundMe accounts, both aiming to raise $10,000 for the Waldecks. To donate, see: www.gofundme.com/waldeck-house-fire or www.gofundme.com/monique-and-todd-waldecks-home.

His wife, he said, is taking it “pretty bad.” But he said he’s tough and they’ll get through.

“I just had a heart attack a week ago,” Waldeck said. “This ain’t helping.”

Waldeck said he and his wife have no intention of leaving the land they have called home — and the wildlife they have called pets — for almost 30 years.

“We’re going to try to buy a travel trailer and put it on the property,” he said. “I’ve lived on this piece of property since 1990. I ain’t leaving.”

Related links: 

Collier County brush fire grows to 7,500 acres, but residents allowed to return and I-75 reopens

Beck Boulevard off Collier Boulevard remains closed

Lee, Collier brush fires make for busy week for Estero, Bonita crews

Collier County residents offer to help those affected by brush fire

Collier brush fire means stay indoors to avoid smoke inhalation

Lely Elementary conducts precautionary evacuation

Some choose to evacuate as 3,500-acre brush fire burns in eastern Collier County

Brush fire battled in eastern Collier County

Firefighters save 115 homes from Lehigh Acres blaze

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Here's what it takes to fight this brush fire in Collier County Wochit


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