RIVERVIEW — Mindy Watts always feared she would die in a fire. She said so when talking to friends about their worst fears.
Mrs. Watts was not the sort to obsess about her thoughts or turn them into phobias. It was just something that came up from time to time.
Far from being a chronic worrier, Mrs. Watts was usually thinking practical thoughts, like how much lumber her husband would need for his construction projects, how many bags of cement and how many pounds of nails. Before the economy tanked, she did all the estimating.
She had trained her children — a daughter, two stepchildren and two more she took in — to run the household, assigning everyone, including herself, a schedule of chores.
She stressed to her kids that they had to be self-reliant. What if she were to die?
"I just remember that being drilled into my head, to make sure I could take care of myself in case anything happened," said daughter Shari Santana.
Mrs. Watts died July 24, after her double-wide mobile home caught on fire. She was 51. Her husband, Tim, 50, and mother, Rhona Molin, 71, also perished in the blaze.
"She had premonitions," said her friend, Mary Greer. "She could explain some of mine to me."
Once, Greer and Mrs. Watts were out, and Mrs. Watts said she had to get back home.
She was anxious, Greer said. "She said, 'My daughter has been in a car accident!' "
That time, Mrs. Watts was wrong. Her daughter had not been in a car accident. But her mother had been.
Mrs. Watts was born in Newark, N.J., and grew up in the neighboring town of Roselle Park. She graduated high school up there, married and moved to Florida. By the early 1990s she was divorced and settled in Riverview.
She met Tim Watts, a quiet contractor. The mobile home they shared could hold their blended family of five, plus two dogs and a cat named Oreo, who lived 11 years.
When a friend died in the mid 1990s, the couple took in two of her teenagers. They stayed until each turned 18.
When Molin, her mother, had health problems, Watts took her in, too. She decorated the mobile home with Coca-Cola memorabilia and figurines of Emmett Kelly, the iconic hobo clown.
"She liked them because of the comedy and tragedy, that he was the sad clown," said Santana, 28. "I hated them. They were so creepy."
Mrs. Watts promised her daughter a car, provided she get a part-time job and maintain her top-tier grade-point average.
When her daughter kept her end of the bargain, Mrs. Watts rewarded her with a Jeep on her 16th birthday. Santana graduated from Riverview High School with a 4.6 GPA.
With the kids grown and the construction industry hurt, the pace of things had changed lately. Tim Watts was looking forward to going to school to become a medical technician.
Friends say Mrs. Watts was close to her mother and enjoyed having Molin in the guest bedroom, even though her mother sometimes teased her about the way she kept house.
She knew she was getting older, too, and took it in stride. Except for gray hairs. When too many of them started showing up, she wouldn't pull them out. She would just dye her hair brown all over again.
About five weeks ago, her mother and some friends were talking about cremation.
"She said, 'I would want to be buried,' " recalled Greer, 46. " 'I wouldn't want to be burned.' "
"She did have a fear of fire," her daughter said. "But not so much of dying in a fire. It was a fear of being burned."
Hillsborough Fire Rescue received the call at 5:45 a.m. July 24. A neighbor was reporting a mobile home fire. Crews put out the flames, but not in time to save the Wattses and Molin, all of whom were found in the couple's bedroom.
Santana believes her grandmother was awakened by the fire and tried to wake up her daughter and son-in-law. All died of smoke inhalation and were not burned, one of the few comforting facts available to loved ones.
Authorities are calling the fire an accident, probably caused by electricity.
Mrs. Watts was buried Friday in Fellowship Primitive Baptist Church Cemetery in Wimauma, her husband's cremated remains in an urn beside her.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or firstname.lastname@example.org.