VALRICO — Frieda Fishner never learned to drive.
Her husband took her everywhere. When he died 16 years ago, neighbors pitched in to run errands for her.
She showed her gratitude with gifts and endless thanks you's. Her garage was already filled with more than 60 Christmas presents for those who had lent her a hand, said her son, Kenneth Fishner.
On Monday afternoon, neighbors again pitched in to help the 83-year-old.
It was too late.
Her house at 1104 Lady Guinevere Drive caught fire while she was inside, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office said.
A neighbor, William Shank, saw flames and smelled smoke. With another neighbor, he tried to use lawn furniture to break windows to save Fishner and her cat. The smoke was too strong.
"I ran around back and busted out the sliding glass window," he told Bay News 9. "And by then I started to hear the fire trucks and the smoke was pouring out."
When the flames were finally extinguished, firefighters found Fishner's body, deputies said. A medical examiner will determine the exact cause of death.
Neighbors say they heard a space heater may have been to blame, but the cause of the fire remains under investigation.
Every day, neighbors recall seeing Fishner walk to the end of her driveway to feed the birds.
"She had a hard time getting around, but she was a trouper," said Leslie Stachelski, a neighbor for a decade.
Fishner had lived in the Valrico home since 1978, property records show. In the neighborhood of tree-lined streets and ranch-style houses, the neighbors look out for each other.
"When somebody needs a hand, we try to help," said Tanya Wilson, Fishner's neighbor for almost 30 years and Stachelski's mother.
And Fishner loved them for it.
"She didn't like to impose, but she was very grateful for the help neighbors gave her," Stachelski said.
She was independent and enjoyed her freedom, Kenneth Fishner said. She told her family, which includes another son, Dale Fishner of Sunrise, that she would never leave that house.
But she was looking forward to a short trip away for Thanksgiving with family.
"I was coming over tomorrow to pick her up," Kenneth Fishner said. "She had her bag already packed."
Shelley Rossetter can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3374