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Family loses everything in Tampa house fire

TAMPA — Charred wood crunched beneath her feet. This was the living room, said 18-year-old Lillian Taylor.

The pile of springs over here was her bed. That black cave over there? That was the kitchen.

"My whole life was in this house," Taylor said.

Now everything is ashes.

Before dawn on Wednesday, fire gobbled up the wooden home at 1405 E 24th Ave. Fire investigators said the cause was electrical. The house was uninsured.

"This family unfortunately has lost everything in a matter of minutes," said Tampa Fire Rescue Capt. Bill Wade.

The exact cause was still under investigation. Taylor's mother, Rosa, said sparking power lines fell onto the burning home, but Tampa Electric Co. spokesman Rick Morera said it was unclear if the downed wires were a cause or the result of the fire.

At about 6:30 a.m. Rosa Taylor, 45, had just returned home after dropping off her 13-year-old daughter, Venus Casabella, at her school bus stop when she saw flames. She ran screaming through the house.

Lillian and her boyfriend, Giovanni Bonilla, 23, woke up, grabbed Lillian's long-haired chihuahua, Princess, and ran outside.

The house is in the same V.M. Ybor neighborhood where 20 unsolved cases of arson have been reported in the past year. Investigators descended on the scene but quickly concluded that the fire was not intentionally set.

That wasn't much comfort to Lillian Taylor, who paced barefoot on the sidewalk as Bonilla stood staring. And it did not matter to Rosa Taylor, whose stomach and foot were bleeding after she jumped the backyard fence to escape the flames. She was taken to a hospital to be stitched up.

The family's two cats, Hector and Precious, died. The family's three dogs — Princess, a pit bull named Luna and a chow-Dalmation mix named Gordy — survived. They will stay with neighbors while the family figures out its next move.

Three cars in the driveway were also destroyed.

American Red Cross volunteers met Taylor and Bonilla a few hours later to take them to a local hotel, where they will stay temporarily.

Before she left for the hotel in a taxi, Lillian Taylor stepped gingerly through each room, remembering Christmases and birthday parties. All the photos were gone.

Her grandparents bought the house more than 30 years ago when they moved from Cuba to raise Rosa. When they died, the house became hers. It was all the inheritance Rosa had, but it was enough.

She raised her own daughters here. They learned to ride bikes out front and played house in the back yard.

Lillian Taylor was looking forward to moving into a place of her own with Bonilla. But first they were going to fix up the old house for her mother.

"We had plans to get this place in top shape," Bonilla said. They wanted to start on Wednesday while Taylor, who's studying business at Hillsborough Community College, was on spring break.

Instead, they sifted through soggy clothing and books. Bonilla carried the stuff outside and piled it up in the trunk of the taxi.

"Need any help?" a volunteer asked him.

Bonilla shook his head. "That's it."

Kim Wilmath can be reached at or (813) 226-3386.

Lillian Taylor, 18, searches her charred Tampa home for any belongings after Wednesday’s fire. The family’s two cats died.

Kim Wilmath | Times

Lillian Taylor, 18, searches her charred Tampa home for any belongings after Wednesday’s fire. The family’s two cats died.

Fire destroys Tampa home

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Family loses everything in Tampa house fire 03/31/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 31, 2010 9:16pm]
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