TAMPA — Flames charred the walls. A firehose blasted jewelry to bits. But in the aftermath of a fire on Rogers Avenue, it is a snapshot on an end table that brings Ramon Tapales to tears.
In the picture, a chihuahua named Sunshine mugs for the camera. She and another chihuahua named Pogi died in an electrical fire Monday evening.
Tampa firefighters put out the blaze. But Tapales says more could have been done to save the dogs. He told rescuers where to find them, he said. No one listened.
Tapales, 47, and his wife Meriam, 50, returned from a neighborhood jog and a trip to a thrift store to find their one-floor home at 4420 Rogers Avenue ablaze and flanked by fire engines.
Though their children were safe at work, pregnant Sunshine and mate Pogi were trapped inside the house.
Tapales said his family is grateful for the fire department's efforts to save their house. He would not have asked firefighters to endanger their own safety to rescue the dogs.
But he remembers telling them that Sunshine and Pogi were behind a baby gate just a few feet from the front door.
As firefighters shuffled in and out of the house, Tapales screamed for them to open the gate, which had been fashioned from a wooden crib.
"Just kick the door!" he said he pleaded. "They're right there!"
Minutes passed. Still no dogs. Desperate, Tapales said he broke a window near the dogs' cage and reached in through the shattered glass. But the smoke was too thick. He couldn't see.
Finally, the dogs were laid dead at his feet, he said.
"No one even listened to me," he said Wednesday from his living room, the smell of smoke still thick in the air.
Tampa Fire Rescue spokesman Bill Wade expressed condolences.
Asked whether firefighters ever take advice on where to look, Wade gave a flat "no." "People move and animals move," he said.
Wade cautioned that homeowners with confined pets should look into monitored smoke alarms that dial for help instead of relying on a passerby to call in an emergency.
Wade said the fire started with a ceiling fan.
The American Red Cross, the couple's church and their workplaces have all offered help, Tapales said. But contractors predicted it could be six months before the family could move in again.
When that happens, Tapales knows things won't be the same without the dogs.
"You get attached," he said, putting his hand to his chest. "Right now, every time I look at this picture I start crying."
Drew Harwell can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3386.