NORTHDALE — Flames surged through a pair of next-door houses Monday, starting in the attic of one, then creeping along a shared wooden fence to the other.
As the fire spread about 3 p.m., only Randye Tacie, 56, of 4908 Traskwood Court, was home, with her four dogs and one of her five cats. She was watching television.
"Rachael Ray was just coming on," Tacie said. "Someone knocked on my door and said, 'Your house is on fire.' "
Nobody was home next door, where the fire started. But Quan Ta, 16, was headed there on her school bus from Sickles High School. Through the bus windows, students saw smoke rising from the neighborhood.
"My friend told me, 'Oooh, that's a big fire,' " Ta said. "I just got a bad feeling."
Moments later, Ta saw flames coming from the 27-year-old ranch-style house where her family has lived for five years.
"The roof was burning, and the back of the house was totally burned," she said.
The roof caved in on Ta's bedroom.
"Everything inside is pretty much gutted," said Ray Yeakley, spokesman for Hillsborough County Fire Rescue. The fire's origin was traced to the attic, but the cause had not been determined Monday afternoon.
Tacie said flames burned holes in her roof and ceiling. They blackened the attic from end to end. But her son's family, visiting from Port Huron, Mich., was spared. They were at Busch Gardens. Most of her cats were outside. Tacie rescued the rest of her pets.
And her prized antique couch and chair, hand-carved a century ago, weren't harmed.
Quan Ta also looked at the fires with perspective. Her best friend, Madison Clermont, died last Thursday in a Carrollwood house fire that remains under investigation.
"I didn't expect it was going to be my turn," Ta said. "I was lucky. My friend wasn't lucky."
Bill Coats can be reached at (813) 269-5309 or firstname.lastname@example.org.