LEALMAN — Chris Pecora knew he was running out of time.
He had rushed inside his neighbor's burning mobile home early Saturday, trying to save the man, who uses a wheelchair.
The heat and smoke were intense. Pecora couldn't budge the heavy, motorized wheelchair. He tried to lift the man up and out of the chair.
Then he felt his clothes starting to melt.
"I had to leave," an upset Pecora said later Saturday. "Where I really felt the heat was on my scalp."
The man in the mobile home died in the fire at the Disston Mobile Home Park, 4001 49th St. N. Sgt. Jim Bordner, a spokesman for the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, said the agency has not made a positive identification.
Gerald Jordan, who also lived in the gutted mobile home, said the dead man was Byron Companion, his best friend. He said he was 46.
Jordan, 47, a housekeeper at Bay Pines VA Medical Center, said he was returning from the laundry when he saw the fire. Pecora, who lives across the street, heard him calling for help.
Officials said the fire began shortly after 7 a.m. Saturday and that the home was engulfed in flames when the Lealman Fire District arrived. Authorities said the man's body was found just inside the front door. They said the fire started in the living room and appears to be accidental.
Pecora, 39, a respiratory repair technician and part owner of Altra Service Corp. in Pinellas Park, said he might have saved his neighbor if he had been able to stand. Instead, the heat and smoke forced Pecora to remain in a crouching position. The heat melted his nylon sweat pants.
The father of three received slight injuries, including cuts on his knees and feet. He was treated at the scene.
It was difficult to relive the events Saturday afternoon. ''I just feel real bad for him, knowing that he was in my arms," Pecora said.
Pecora's wife, Anne, 38, a hairdresser in Seminole, said she's proud of her husband, but also upset that he risked his life. "I think of my husband as a hero," she said.
"It's natural human instinct," he said.
Jordan said his friend was badly injured in September when he was struck by a car while crossing a street. Before the accident, he worked for a company making signs, Jordan said.
He was an honest friend," he said. "Me and him never argued."
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283.