WEEKI WACHEE — Jeremy Little held 2-year-old Caleb's hand as they walked among the charred ruins that had been their home.
To the right, a melted toy dinosaur and a plastic yellow pickup. To the left, a pile of blackened baby clothes.
"I've got the terrible task of sifting through this stuff," Little said Thursday afternoon.
Little had lived in the 900-square-foot mobile home at 8191 Filson St. for 10 years, four doors down from his parents' house where he grew up.
It caught fire Tuesday afternoon, melting away in minutes.
Only days before Christmas, when most children are excited about Santa's visit, Caleb kicked dirt as his dad surveyed the damage.
"It's a beautiful day outside!" Caleb exclaimed.
Little hugged his son.
"I didn't think you would understand."
Most of what's lost is unrecognizable. Badges from Little's Boy Scout days. A rare coin collection. Six guitars. And, most painful, his 3-year-old pit bull, Bella, and 2-year-old border collie, Sally.
Usually the dogs were chained outside. But on Tuesday, it was so cold Little decided to keep them in the bathroom.
They died in the fire.
"I don't like to think about it," Little said.
Yet he knows it could have been worse.
"Thank God I was working," he said. "We could have been in there."
Little, 31, lives alone with his son. He makes his living from odd jobs. He remodels homes, fixes roofs and pours concrete. But it's been tough to find work in this depressed economy.
Fire officials have not established what caused the fire. The home was not insured. Little said money is so tight that he's two years behind on paying taxes and has only a few hundred bucks — money he made from the remodeling job he was on the day of the fire.
When the fire started, Caleb was staying with Little's mom and dad.
Lois Russell, 74, lives next door to Little's property. She heard a popping noise outside and thought Little was building something. When she went outside, she saw the flames.
"It was scary,'' she said. "I felt the heat.''
Some of the vinyl siding on the home Lois shares with her husband, Ken, melted.
Little wants to start over, maybe buy a used double-wide and put it on the property, which is about a mile west of U.S. 19 toward Bayport. For now, he sleeps on his parents' couch.
"But I can't do that too long," he said.
The Red Cross donated $200. Just enough for some food and clothes.
"They gave what they could," Little said.
Heaven's Gate Church, where Little worshiped as a teenager, will also donate money.
Barbara Sappia, a church member who has known Little since he was a baby, said the pastor and his wife will use church money to buy gifts for Caleb.
"It's so close to Christmas," she said. "We're such a small church, we wish we could give more. We've already given away all of our Christmas money to other families in need. There's not much left."
Brittany Alana Davis can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1432.