Man dead after Hillsborough house fire

RIVERVIEW — Greg Harper's barking pit bull jolted him awake early Friday.

He got out of bed, opened the door of his home on Cone Grove Road and instantly smelled smoke.

Harper wandered outside and saw the source of the odor: large, orange flames bursting through the roof of his neighbor's home across the street.

His neighbor was inside the burning house, Hillsborough County Fire Rescue said.

The fire was reported about 3 a.m. at 10406 Cone Grove Road. After spotting the flames, Harper ran over to the house and shattered some of the windows with rocks. He yelled out his neighbor's name. He told his wife to call 911.

Then he banged on the house next door, the home of his neighbor's daughter. She also called 911, fire rescue said.

"I did what any neighbor would do," Harper said.

Fire crews arrived and searched the home. A firefighter smashed a window to get in and discovered a man's body in a bedroom, fire spokesman Ronnie Rivera said.

The flames were put out within 25 minutes, Rivera said. More than half of the home was destroyed by the fire, while the other section, including the bedroom where the man was found, sustained heavy smoke damage.

The house did not have a smoke alarm.

"That probably would have made a difference," Rivera said. "Usually, most of the fire deaths occur when people are sleeping, so it's important to have a properly functioning fire alarm."

On Friday, officials did not identify the victim, who lived alone, but property records show the owner of the three-bedroom, two-bathroom house is Bobby Granger.

The cause of the fire remained under investigation. Investigators and a fire marshal from the Hillsborough County Fire Rescue, as well as a state fire marshal and an arson dog, were at the scene Friday morning.

The blaze didn't immediately appear suspicious, Rivera said.

The victim's daughter watched from the entrance of her home as investigators sifted through the debris.

A charred car sat in the garage, exposed because the door was mangled and burned on the ground. Swirls of white smoke still lingered around the house.

Hours later, officials from the Hillsborough medical examiner's office arrived. The victim's daughter watched as they wheeled her father's body, covered by a black tarp, out of the house on a stretcher. She declined to comment.

As the sun emerged, Harper stood outside with coffee in a jar, staring at the remains of the home where his neighbor died.

"Just can't believe it," he said.

Times staff researcher John Martin and staff writer Meredith Rutland contributed to this report.

Man dead after Hillsborough house fire 03/29/13 [Last modified: Saturday, March 30, 2013 12:43am]

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