Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Man escapes as New Port Richey mobile home erupts in flames

NEW PORT RICHEY — A couple of weeks ago, Derald Gene Stamper was told he had three months to live. An aggressive form of lung cancer, his doctor told him. It spread to his lymph nodes. They gave him an oxygen tank to breathe.

The 63-year-old had once been a yeoman in the Navy. He was stationed in Key West, a liaison for the storied flight team, the Blue Angels. Then 21 years ago he moved to New Port Richey, into a mobile home at 6710 Celeste Drive, and became a loner, said his brother Gary Stamper.

Derald Stamper was in that home at 1 a.m. Thursday, watching TV, when he smelled burning plastic.

He looked down and, for reasons that remain unclear, saw the tube from his oxygen tank was smouldering. Stamper limped out to the garage, climbed into his wheelchair and wheeled out to the street just in time.

A few minutes later, the home erupted in flames. Other oxygen tanks inside went off like bombs. One man said he heard the explosions from behind the 7-Eleven at Little Road and Ridge Road, more than a mile away.

In the house next door, Brian Vaughn sat up in his bed. The room's windows glowed bright orange.

Vaughn, director of safety at the cable contractor Knight Enterprises, evacuated his family out the door opposite the burning house. He was back inside when he heard the first explosion.

"You ever heard a tire on a rim pop?" he asked. "It's like that by about three times. The ground shakes."

Vaughn had just topped off his Ford F-350 pickup with diesel Wednesday. He scrambled outside to move it. By the time he got there, the plastic window covers on the side closest to the burning house were melted. A headlight was warped. The right side reflector boiled.

A power line fell inches in front of his hood while he backed the truck out of the driveway.

Other explosions rocked Vaughn's house. Pantry doors were blown open, sending salt and pepper shakers and glass bottles flying. A heirloom porcelain clock fell from its spot on the wall and shattered on the floor. No one was hurt.

John Seger, a neighbor on the other side, watched from his yard as the oxygen tanks burst. One tank fell on its side with burning oxygen screaming from the top. Flames shot out 5 or 6 feet "like a flame thrower" he said.

Seger hosed down his own home to protect it from falling embers.

"It rained fire," said his fiancee, Kim Furman. "You opened up the front door and it felt like you were getting instant sunburn."

Later Thursday morning, plastic siding hung like cloth on Vaughn's mobile home. A shed in the back was melted.

Stamper's home was a charred shell. Aluminum siding splintered, the middle caved in. A Chevy S-10 parked in the garage didn't stand a chance; its paint a brownish white, tires burned away. Rafters overhead looked like spent matches.

Branches were blackened 40 feet up a maple tree in the yard.

Vaughn found two pieces of an oxygen tank, flat with razor-sharp edges, 60 feet away in another neighbor's yard.

New Port Richey Assistant Fire Chief Tim Exline said the cause of the fire was still under investigation but didn't look to be suspicious. He said firefighters stayed until 5 a.m. knocking down flames and checking for hot spots in the rubble.

Gary Stamper took Derald home with him, where he slept most of Thursday. He said he didn't want to wake him to talk to a reporter.

Back on Celeste Lane, neighbors stood at the lot to survey the damage. A woman who had heard the boom in the night drove by out of curiosity.

Leaned against the outside of the fence surrounding the lot was an old vinyl record. Its grooves were melted flat, edges were charred and a third of it had been broken off. The record's title was barely legible in peeling paint: Disneyland's Peter Pan.

Alex Orlando can be reached at or (727) 869-6247.

Man escapes as New Port Richey mobile home erupts in flames 04/19/12 [Last modified: Thursday, April 19, 2012 8:37pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Top 5 at Noon: Facts on Richard Spencer's Florida visit; Column: Jameis, don't be a hero; Locale Market changes again


    Here are the latest headlines and updates on

    White nationalist Richard Spencer (C) and his supporters clash with Virginia State Police in Emancipation Park after the "Unite the Right" rally was declared an unlawful gathering August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. Spencer is set to speak at the University of Florida. [Getty]
  2. Bucs Cannon Fodder podcast: Uncertainty surrounds Jameis Winston's health


    Greg Auman talks about the Bucs' quarterback situation, with uncertainty around Jameis Winston's health, in his latest Cannon Fodder podcast.

    Jameis Winston takes the field for warmups before the Bucs' game against the Cardinals Sunday in Glandale, Ariz. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
  3. Pasco mom, caretaker face charges after toddler suffers fractured skull


    PORT RICHEY — A 13-month-old toddler who suffered severe head injuries and brain hemorrhaging is now in the care of a foster family, and both of the child's caretakers face felony charges.

    Wyatt Frank Laughlin faces a felony charge of aggravated child abuse after a 13-month-old child in his care suffered a skull fracture and clots in the brain and eyes. [Courtesy Pasco County Sheriff's Office]
  4. Once again, Pinellas superintendent earns high marks from School Board members


    Pinellas County School Board members once again gave school superintendent Mike Grego high marks on his annual evaluation, which was made public Tuesday. 

    Pinellas County school superintendent Mike Grego has once again earned high marks from School Board members on his annual evaluation.
  5. Power struggle: Latvala targets Putnam's large donations from electric utilities


    TALLAHASSEE — The 2018 race for Florida governor will be about power — not just political power, but electric power.

    Scott Crellin, a trouble man for Duke Energy, works to cut tree limbs from a Tarpon Springs power line after Hurricane Irma. The utility's problems with getting power restored after the storm, and it's contributions to Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam's campaign for governor, have become an issue in the governor's race. [CHRIS URSO  |   Times]