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Fire displaces Tampa couple from longtime home

The east Tampa home of Carolyn Simmons, 59, and Clinton Simmons, 76, caught fire Friday. They’ve lived there 36 years.

JESSICA VANDER VELDE | Times

The east Tampa home of Carolyn Simmons, 59, and Clinton Simmons, 76, caught fire Friday. They’ve lived there 36 years.

TAMPA — Carolyn Simmons' 39-year-old son died in June.

Her husband suffered a stroke this year.

And early Friday the couple became homeless.

A candle they were using for light when they couldn't afford the electric bill started a fire. It destroyed the east Tampa house where they had lived more than three decades and raised their children.

But despite the year's tragedies, Simmons, 59, held onto faith that relief would come from a higher place.

"I'm looking up," she said while standing on the front porch. "I think we're to the bottom now."

Simmons and her husband, Clinton, moved into the little wood-frame home 36 years ago, when their sons were 2 and 4, and she was pregnant with their daughter.

"This was my first house," she said. "I loved it."

She lit the candle Thursday night because the couple's electricity had been turned off the previous day. Clinton Simmons is retired from laying asphalt. Carolyn Simmons receives disability checks. They had fallen behind on their bills and couldn't pay the $615 they owed, she said.

She sought help from a county service center, but in the meantime decided to use a flashlight in the bedroom and candles in the kitchen and bathroom.

About midnight, Clinton Simmons, 76, woke up when he heard loud popping. He shook his wife. The smoke started burning her eyes and mouth. She ran for the door, but it was jammed. She yanked at it until it opened. When she turned around, her husband wasn't there.

"I thought he was right behind me," she said.

He had become disoriented. Neighbors noticed flames jumping through the windows and ran inside and rescued him.

Firefighters arrived at 12:21 a.m. and got the fire under control in about 15 minutes. Fire officials estimate about $30,000 in damages, much of it in the kitchen and bathroom.

The Simmonses didn't have a smoke detector or homeowners insurance. They aren't sure if they'll be able to move back.

The Red Cross is giving them four nights at the nearby Red Roof Inn, Carolyn Simmons said. After that, she doesn't know where they will go.

She's just thankful that she and her husband made it out alive.

"I was taught as a little girl that God, he will not put you through more than you can bear," she said. "He's going to bring us out of this."

Times staff writer Danny Valentine contributed to this report.

Fire displaces Tampa couple from longtime home 10/22/10 [Last modified: Friday, October 22, 2010 10:56pm]
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