TAMPA — Paul Kerr was drinking his coffee about 3 a.m., getting ready for his early shift at Home Depot, when he heard a loud pop.
He looked outside to see flames shooting up from his neighbor's garage.
"I screamed, 'Call 911, call the fire department,' " Kerr recalled.
Kerr, 38, woke his stepson, Mathew Ausburn, 20, and ran to the front of the house at 5119 N River Blvd.
They yelled for their neighbor and banged on the front door. No one answered.
Ausburn said he and Kerr barged through the front door, where they were met with a billowing wall of smoke. They could only see about 6 inches in front of them.
They met George A. Driver in the hallway. He had been sleeping and was confused, Ausburn said. When he first woke up, he thought he was blind.
The three rushed out of the house. It would take an hour and dozens of firefighters before the blaze was under control.
The $130,000 home is owned by Driver and Jeffrey S. Long, according to property records. The structure is considered a total loss.
Investigators determined the fire was caused by a mechanical failure associated with a scooter in the garage, Tampa Fire Rescue said. Damage to the home and its contents was estimated to be about $300,000.
As soon as Driver was out of the house, he remembered that his standard poodle, Trevor, and three birds were still inside.
So in they went. The men made several trips back in the house to rescue the animals.
They had to run in twice after the poodle, which darted back in the house after the first rescue.
Ausburn said there wasn't a doubt that he had to go in and help his neighbor of eight years.
"He's like my uncle," he said. "If he's going to die in the fire, I might as well go in there with him. He's like family to me. I'm not going to lose a family member."
Once they got the animals, they watched crews battle the blaze from Ausburn's home. They could feel the heat from the flames.
"He was just screaming, 'My house, my house,' " he said.
Ausburn's mother, Tammy Kerr, said she is just happy Driver is all right.
"Houses can be rebuilt," she said.
Times staff writers Andy Boyle and Shelley Rossetter contributed to this report.
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