TAMPA — It happened midday Monday when Eddie Edwards was alone at home with his pets, a rat terrier named Ladybug and a cockatiel called Cosmo.
Edwards was watching TV in the living room, dozing off occasionally, when he saw flames near a side window. He jumped up to get water from the kitchen, but realized it was too late. He rushed out through the back door; there was no time to put on shoes.
About 12:30 p.m. neighbors reported the fire at 3502 E 11th Ave., a two-story wood frame house in east Ybor, Tampa Fire Rescue Capt. Bill Wade said. About two dozen firefighters responded to the one-alarm fire, bringing it under control in about 25 minutes. Edwards was not injured, but both pets died.
"I'm trying to take all this in," Edwards said, shaking his head outside the charred house.
An electrical problem near the window air-conditioning unit appears to have caused the fire, according to investigators from the Tampa Fire Marshals Office. It caused damages of at least $100,000. In the past months, several vacant homes in the area have been plagued by fire, some of them confirmed cases of arson.
Visibly shaken, Edwards, who sat on a neighbor's porch across the street Monday, said he thanked God for his escape, but was saddened by the loss of his pets.
As the fire raged on, neighbors had heard loud cries from inside the house. They thought at first that Edwards' wife, Rosa, was trapped, then discovered she had gone to the store.
That's when they realized they were hearing Ladybug and Cosmo — so named because the bird came out of nowhere two years ago on the Fourth of July and landed on Edwards' porch.
"The bird was screaming," Edwards said. "The neighbors tried to get in there but it was too hot."
Edwards' cousin, Olin Newsome, who owns the house, was out running errands and arrived home to ruins. The American Red Cross will assist Edwards and his wife, while Newsome plans to move in with relatives.
Nandini Jayakrishna can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3383.