12-year-old boy saves loved ones in Palm River mobile home fire

TAMPA — It was a terrifying night for Carmen Soto. A fire destroyed the Palm River mobile home where she lived for 12 years. The tears come easily.

"I lost everything," she said, speaking in Spanish on Sunday from a motel room. "I lost my home."

But she still has grandchildren — 13, she said.

And she is grateful that one of them was her last-minute houseguest.

Felix Rivera, 12, pulled his grandmother, a dialysis patient with asthma; and his great-uncle, who has heart trouble and uses a walker, to safety. A fire, which officials believe is linked to a malfunctioning oxygen machine, had started in the early morning and engulfed their mobile home.

That Felix was there to do what he did was no less than a miracle, said Soto, 65.

• • •

A sixth-grader at Dowdell Middle School, Felix said he had not even planned to spend Saturday night with his grandparents.

A friend of his lives near them in the River Bay mobile home park, he said. The two boys had spent the evening hanging out. Felix was tired and didn't want to walk to his home, just under a mile away.

He called his mother about 8 p.m. and asked if he could stay.

Carmen Soto recalls dozing off while wearing her oxygen mask. It was well past midnight when she and her husband, Antonio, 75, woke up to the smell of smoke.

Felix remembers hearing his grandmother cry out. Then his grandfather yelled "fuego," or fire in Spanish.

Her husband was frantic, Carmen Soto said. But he managed to escape from the mobile home.

Felix tried to douse the fire with a garden hose. "But there was so much smoke, I couldn't see," he said.

So he pulled his grandmother outside to safety. Then he went back inside to get her wheelchair.

Felix's great-uncle, Alfredo Soto, had been sleeping in another bedroom. In his panic to escape, he started running without his walker and collapsed on the floor.

So Felix lifted his great-uncle under the armpits and pulled him outside too.

Had it not been for her grandson, Carmen Soto said, "we would have burned to death."

• • •

Fire Rescue dispatched 18 workers and a half-dozen vehicles. The trailer next door was singed as well.

Rescue workers say the blaze was made more intense by containers of oxygen that were in storage in an adjoining shed.

They found no working smoke detectors.

The Red Cross helped the family with temporary lodging. Alfredo Soto was hospitalized because of his heart and smoke inhalation, Carmen Soto said.

Medicare and Medicaid provide medical care for the Sotos, who are originally from Puerto Rico.

But the mobile home had no insurance, they said. They do not know where they will live next.

And for Felix, who returned to the trailer on Sunday afternoon with his proud parents, the whole thing was a little unreal. "It seemed like it was all a dream," he said.

Then he felt the top if his head.

"The fire burned some of my hair."

Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 909-4602 or sokol@sptimes.com.

12-year-old boy saves loved ones in Palm River mobile home fire 12/27/09 [Last modified: Monday, December 28, 2009 8:01am]

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