Residents of Overlook Road had a scare Tuesday as they stumbled sleepy-eyed into the cool, dark morning and gathered in groups to watch as flames shot through a neighbor's home.
"I've never seen fire so intense," Thomas Clementi said. "Everybody started wondering if they were still in the house."
But David Robichaud, who rents the one-story home at 3350 Overlook Road on a quiet cul-de-sac, was able to scoop up his 4-year-old Shih Tzu, Chewi, and get out before flames ripped through the home.
"The house just went up so fast," he said later Tuesday morning.
His wife, Bonnie, had already left for work. No one was injured in the blaze, which began about 5 a.m.
Robichaud, 51, said he was in the garage using a lighter to burn some frayed threads from his shorts before he went to work. He left the lighter on a shelf before going inside the house to make a cup of tea. When he returned to the garage, a quilt covering a large television was on fire, he said.
Robichaud said he ran into the kitchen, got some water and tried to extinguish the flames, but they were already beginning to spread.
The fire started in the garage but the cause has not been determined, said Largo Fire Rescue Division Chief David Mixson.
Robichaud said he doesn't believe he caused the fire and thinks it may be electrical in nature, because not long ago he was getting shocked while in the shower and some electrical repairs were made.
The home, which has a market value of $157,248, is owned by Lay Sihapanya, 37, and his wife, who live in Clearwater.
Next-door neighbors Charlie and Sandy Harper said they were awakened by booms about 5:15 a.m.
"Then the policeman was pounding on our door telling us to get out," Sandy Harper said.
When the Harpers got the all-clear to return to their home, they invited the Robichauds in.
"It was chilly this morning, so we made them some coffee and brought them in the house to calm them down," said Charlie Harper, a former Largo city commissioner.
The Harpers, both 65, praised police and firefighters, who worked to alert neighbors and contain the blaze before it spread.
Robichaud said he and his wife do not have renter's insurance and don't know how they will replace their belongings.
"Everything we own is pretty much gone now," said Robichaud, a cabinetmaker who was unemployed for five months this year.
But the couple, part of a Christian music ministry, said they were blessed that no one was hurt.
As investigators walked through the garage Tuesday afternoon, Robichaud stood near the driveway and flipped through the sodden pages of his King James Bible — one of a handful of items salvaged.
"A lot of times when we are at our weakest,'' he said, "God is at his strongest within us."
Reach Rita Farlow at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4157.