TAMPA — An early-morning blaze killed a 47-year-old woman Wednesday and destroyed a house in a North Tampa neighborhood just south of Fowler Avenue.
Lori Ruebenson was identified by Tampa police as the woman who died. She started living at the 50-year-old stucco house at 1306 E Poinsettia Ave. about two months ago, said Diana Fries, whose brother is listed as the owner.
Fries said she keeps an eye on the property and had met with Ruebenson several times.
"She was nice, funny and outgoing," Fries said of Ruebenson.
Fire crews arrived at about 1:20 a.m. to find the house engulfed in flames, said Tampa Fire Rescue Capt. Bill Wade. Inside, firefighters found Ruebenson's body. Within 20 minutes, the fire was under control as 26 fire rescue workers came from stations in Sulphur Springs, North Tampa, East Tampa and Seminole Heights.
The Tampa Fire Marshal's Office said officials were trying to determine a cause, but that the fire did not appear to be suspicious, Wade said.
Wade said Ruebenson had a guest with her at the time, who awoke to smoke and escaped. The woman told fire officials that she tried to re-enter the house after realizing her friend was still trapped inside, but the smoke was too thick.
She told them she last saw Ruebenson on the phone, sitting on a couch, smoking cigarettes. The couch appears to be where the fire started, Wade said, and improperly disposed smoking material is a possible culprit.
Not much is known about Ruebenson, a former registered nurse who lived until recently in West Palm Beach. Her family, when reached, declined comment. Hayward Davis, a program administrator with Agency for Community Treatment Services Inc., a nearby homeless shelter, said Ruebenson had worked there.
Charlie Atwood lived at the house with Ruebenson, but didn't know her last name. She lived in the back of the 900-square-foot house, he said, while he lived in the front part. He said the owner let him stay without paying rent. They barely spoke, he said.
Atwood, 75, a retiree and motorcycle buff, wasn't staying there Monday night. He's moving to an Inverness house. Much of the stuff he planned to move to his new home — his clothes, a TV, and a VCR camera — were destroyed.
"There's nothing worth moving now," he said. "It's all gone. It's worse for the girl who died. There was no one here to get her out."
Times news researcher John Martin contributed to this story.