ZEPHYRHILLS — A few minutes before 11 o'clock Friday morning, Henry Morgan's wife called his cell phone. When he answered, he could barely make out her voice because she was crying.
"The house is on fire," she shouted.
And then the phone went dead.
Morgan didn't know if she was stuck inside the house. He kept trying to call her back, but her phone wouldn't pick up. He and his wife, Sherry, live in the 1,200-square-foot house with their three children — daughters Brandy, 17, and Sierra, 13, and son Cameron, 7 — along with several cats and dogs. One of the cats had just had kittens.
Morgan jumped in his pickup truck and sped to the house on Chester Drive in Zephyrhills. He and Sherry have been married for 20 years and the house is nearly paid off. But he works in construction and is only getting one or two days of work a week. Sherry, who had always been a stay-at-home mom, went to work at a daycare about a month ago. They didn't want to lose their house to foreclosure, so something had to go. They canceled their homeowner's insurance.
When Morgan got to the house one side of it was engulfed in flames. There were three firetrucks, two rescue vehicles and tons of emergency workers. Morgan, 41, said he didn't see his wife or children or pets so he thought they were inside the house.
And he ran toward it.
He said he heard someone shout something at him, but he thought it was a neighbor. He wasn't thinking.
"It was tunnel vision," he said.
He saw that the master bedroom wasn't in flames and ran toward the window.
He jumped inside and heard one of his dogs barking. Morgan thought the dog might be hiding under the bed and that he could save him.
"I love my pets the same way I love people," he said. "They're all the same to me."
Halfway through, he felt someone grab his ankles and pull him back out. Then he said deputies and firemen wrestled him to the ground, cutting his head and his cheek.
He was handcuffed and thrown in the back of a patrol car. There, he watched the rest of his house burn.
And then, about 30 minutes later, he was taken to the Pasco County Jail in Land O'Lakes and booked. He was charged with preventing or obstructing firefighters from extinguishing a fire and resisting arrest without violence. His bail is set at $5, 150.
During an interview in the jail Friday evening, he still had dried blood down the side of his face and his hands were still blackened with soot. He wore an orange and white uniform.
"My house just burned to the ground," he said. "And I'm in here. This is crazy."
It turned out that his wife and children — who were not inside when the fire started — were standing on the other side of a fire engine, which is why Morgan couldn't see them when he ran toward the house.
Five of his dogs died, along with at least five cats, according to Assistant Fire Chief Mike Ciccarello. One dog and a few cats were saved. Ciccarello said investigators believe the fire was caused by an overloaded extension cord in the garage.
The arrest report said that Morgan "ignored repeated commands" to stop running toward the house. Morgan said he didn't know there were cops shouting at him in the first place.
He has had his own troubles with the law in the past — trespassing back in 1985, aggravated assault in 1998, cocaine possession in 2003 — but he said he respects officers. Morgan said his late father — also named Henry Morgan — was an officer for the Zephyrhills Police Department. He has his badge number, 267, tattooed on his right arm. All of his dad's uniforms and mementos were in the house.
Morgan is angry and in shock but he said he understands why the officers had to pull him back out of the window.
"But why did they have to arrest me?" he said.
Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Erin Sullivan can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 909-4609.