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Man, 92, and his dog die in Odessa house fire

Firefighter Paul Totten looks for hot spots Tuesday at the Odessa home of Gilbert Lange, who died during an overnight fire.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

Firefighter Paul Totten looks for hot spots Tuesday at the Odessa home of Gilbert Lange, who died during an overnight fire.

ODESSA — When firefighters found 92-year-old Gilbert Lange, he was curled around his only companion, a dachshund named Lincoln.

Neither survived the fire reported at 12:41 a.m. Tuesday at Lange's mobile home at 1635 Rowland Drive. Lange and Lincoln were sprawled in the bathroom farthest from the kitchen, the most damaged area in the house.

A neighbor tried to kick in Lange's door to help him escape, according to Sandra Carter, whose daughter Angela Love lives next door. Love's boyfriend, Austin Keehan, could see Lange trying to dial 911, but the flames grew so quickly that they couldn't reach him, Carter said. Keehan declined to be interviewed for this article.

Pasco Fire Rescue arrived shortly after with 15 men and three fire trucks, Chief Andy Fossa said. They evacuated Lange's neighbors, in part due to a propane tank outside his home.

Melissa Yeloushan, 35, said a firefighter woke her family about 1 a.m. with heavy knocks on her door. She and her husband and two children sat in their car for about half an hour before they were allowed back inside, she said.

Fossa said the fire is still under investigation by state and local fire marshals. They haven't determined yet where the fire started, but they don't suspect foul play.

There were no officials, no security tape near the home late Tuesday morning. Just a long, skinny home with many pieces missing.

The metal left side of the structure had been torn away, warped and twisted in the muddy ground. Two bathrooms, the bedroom and what was left of the kitchen were exposed.

In the bathroom where Lange was found, a folded walker was propped against the toilet. A flashlight, still on, had rolled under the toilet. Damp ashes covered everything.

Beams and insulation had crashed onto furniture and scorched carpet throughout the house. The threadbare quilt on Lange's bed was torn and covered in soot. The smell of smoke mingled with the earthy, muddy smell from the wet ground.

The kitchen had no ceiling, no walls. The refrigerator was partially melted. The counter twisted in on itself, blackened. Ceramic white casserole dishes, stacked neatly under the counter, survived the flames.

News of the fire and Lange's death slowly spread through the small Odessa neighborhood. Jess Harris, 54, was walking her dog Tuesday morning by Lange's home when she heard what had happened.

She said she knew Lange and his wife, Dorothy, who died in 1999. Two decades ago, when her sons were just toddlers, the Langes encouraged the boys to explore their yard and gnome collection.

Harris said she and her husband often saw Lange while on their morning runs.

"Mr. Lange was a nice man," Harris said. "He was always out getting his mail in the morning with a smile on his face and his little dog."

Times photographer Douglas R. Clifford contributed to this report. Mary Kenney can be reached at mkenney@tampabay.com or (727) 869-6247.

Man, 92, and his dog die in Odessa house fire 07/24/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 24, 2012 8:58pm]
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