RUSKIN — Filiberto Morquecho liked tending to the shrubs and vines outside his house and seldom turned down a neighbor needing a place to stay.
Early Sunday, a fire raced through his small, light-blue house, trapping the 81-year-old man inside. Two men staying with him made it out just ahead of the smoke and flames.
One man singed his scalp and hair, a neighbor said. The other apparently emerged unharmed.
Deputies and a fire rescue unit arrived at the house, at 208 SE Fourth Ave., about 6:45 a.m. After they extinguished the fire, they found Morquecho's body inside, close to the front door. The men who escaped had apparently rented rooms from him.
The cause of the fire was still under investigation.
Members of Morquecho's family drove up from their homes in Sarasota to await more details and sift through the debris.
The home's corrugated-metal roof was partially collapsed and several walls had fallen in. Singed chairs, mattresses and other furniture were piled outside.
"We're all really devastated," Mahely Morquecho, one of his granddaughters, said. "My dad, his son, it's hard seeing him cry. He's always been the tough one in the family. It's hard."
Another granddaughter, Maria Alvarez, 25, drove up with her mother, Alejandrina Gaytan, 49. Sheriff's deputies had knocked on their doors about 11 a.m. Sunday to deliver the news.
Alvarez remembered her grandfather as a generous man, renting rooms at little and sometimes no cost to help people. They came courtesy of social service agencies or simply showed up at night, knocking on the door.
Morquecho moved to Florida in the early 1980s from north central Mexico. He had worked two or more jobs for as long as Alvarez could remember. He was quiet, soft-spoken and traditional.
Often during planting and harvesting seasons he could be found in the fields. More recently, he worked in a warehouse, she said. He had diabetes and varicose veins and a doctor had advised him to slow down.
When not working, he liked tending to his flowering vines. They crept up the live oaks that shaded the house and the Chevrolet pickup and Suburban sport utility vehicle parked on the sandy driveway. Next to the driveway sat five, blue half-barrels in a row. They served as containers for more shrubs and flowers.
Neighbors said Morquecho seemed nice, always waving and smiling as they walked by.
Sarah Blaisdell, 31, said she was awakened about 6:30 a.m. when her eldest daughter rushed in to warn her about a fire next door. She called 911 and got her six children out of the house.
"It took them about 10 minutes to get here, but it seemed longer," she said. "I called them back, kind of cussed and said, 'You need to get out here. There's someone still inside.' "
Alvarez said her grandfather never talked much. He was reserved, she said. On Sundays, he liked visiting flea markets to hunt for tools and other items.
This Sunday would have been different, though.
It was his daughter's birthday.
Staff writer Elizabeth Behrman contributed to this report. Rich Shopes can be reached at (813) 661-2454 or [email protected]