DUNEDIN — A formerly stray cat and a dog that "used to be somebody else's problem" saved John Griffin's life early Tuesday morning when his home was engulfed by flames.
Griffin awoke shortly after midnight when his cat, Charley, jumped on him and meowed. On the other side of Griffin's bed, Blondie the dog nudged him.
"I was lucky. If it wasn't for them, I probably would have slept through it," Griffin said.
Griffin said he went to investigate the fire after the animals awakened him, but retreated when he reached the kitchen door and felt intense heat. He escaped through a sliding glass door, tripping over Charley as he did.
Charley and Blondie, a bullmastiff-bloodhound mix that Griffin took in for a friend, both made it out, too.
When firefighters arrived, flames were shooting about 45 feet into the air, and Griffin was attacking the blaze with a garden hose, said Division Chief Bill McElligott of the Dunedin Fire Department.
Vince Stegura, who lives two doors down, said his wife woke him when she smelled smoke and saw an orange glow reflected off a neighbor's home.
"I ran down there pretty much in my underwear to make sure he was out of the house," said Stegura, 32. "The fire was up in the trees. It was blazing pretty fast."
The one-story, wood-frame home at 1268 Falcon Drive, which county property tax rolls say has a market value of $112,500, was a total loss.
Nearly all of Griffin's possessions also were destroyed, as was a two-car garage and a van that was parked in the driveway. Total damages could reach $170,000, fire officials estimated.
Two nearby homes sustained minor damage, including melted blinds and blistered paint caused by the extreme heat.
Fire inspectors ruled the blaze accidental, though the heavy fire damage prevented them from determining a cause Tuesday.
McElligott said Griffin did not have a working smoke alarm, which would have alerted him sooner that a fire had started.
"Folks should not rely on domestic animals to make them safe," he said. "Working smoke detectors are always the best defense."
Rita Farlow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4162.