CARROLLWOOD — Brittany Compton was breastfeeding her son late at night when she smelled smoke.
Ashes from the fireplace, though dumped in a container and doused with water, had reignited. Flames quickly filled her family's house.
Compton, her children, husband and brother got out safely the night of Dec. 19, 2011. But the couple lost everything. Compton still has nightmares.
The fire has changed Compton in other ways, too. She no longer honks at bad drivers. She randomly buys others coffee, groceries or gas. "Pay it forward Fridays," she calls it.
She has also helped launch an online charity devoted to helping others devastated by tragedy.
"I'm trying to be the person I needed," she said.
FundingChances.com is a "crowdfunding" site, launched two weeks ago. The founders — Compton, her husband, James Compton, her brother, Jordan Long, and his friend Nick Gilboy — seek victims of tragedy and help them post their stories and a photo online.
People moved by their need can donate, paying through PayPal online.
The four founders do not skim anything off the top. They want to help people, just as others supported the Comptons a year ago, when the fire took everything from them.
The flames started in the garage, tearing through Christmas presents and garbage waiting to go to the curb. What the fire did not incinerate, smoke and soot ruined.
Brittany and James Compton had jobs, but without renter's insurance, how could they replace everything at once?
Too proud to ask for help, Brittany eventually broke down, shoeless and braless, in a convenience store. She needed so much.
So Brittany's brother set up a page for them on GoFundMe.com, a large crowdfunding site.
The Comptons raised $5,000 in a couple of hours. It grew to $21,228. They saw about $16,000 of it, they say, after fees were taken by the hosting site.
Meanwhile, people mailed items and gift cards. Their 5-year-old son was tired out that Christmas, faced with about 300 presents to unwrap. What the family didn't need, they donated.
Brittany wanted to give back. Soon, she started regularly checking the local news and contacting reporters to get in touch with victims of tragedy.
She'd support those families and give them advice.
"But when it comes down to it, what they needed was money," said Brittany, 27.
FundingChances provides that, she says.
There are many crowdfunding sites, but the Comptons and Long, 25, think their site, set up by the computer-savvy Gilboy, will attract people because they do not charge a percentage.
"We're doing it for free because we want to," Brittany Compton said.
They chose the name "Funding Chances" because it's all about second chances. Tragedy does not have to be the end, they say.
Currently they are raising money for a 4-year-old boy in Connecticut who was badly hurt when a tree limb fell on him in November. Funding Chances had raised about $2,000 for the boy, Robby Klimaytis, according to the website.
Soon they'll start collecting for a Land O'Lakes boater injured in an accident.
Brittany Compton hopes to add more causes, even becoming a go-to site for emergency responders to send local victims.
"I would love to be able to partner up with firefighters, police officers, social workers, hospitals," she said. "Anyone who knows a family who's experiencing tragedy."
Times news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3433.