RIVERVIEW — Bobby Carter saw flames engulfing the home where he had lived for 25 years. Then he heard his dogs barking.
Four of them were inside.
He called their names as he crawled through a doorway into the fire. About three feet in, the smoke forced him to turn back.
Three dogs escaped the blaze. One, a chow named Buddy, didn't make it.
"I just let them in because it was hot outside," he said. "I don't know why he ran back in."
Investigators don't know what caused the fire Sunday in Carter's mobile home at 12520 Lovers Lane in Riverview, said Hillsborough Fire Rescue spokesman Ray Yeakley.
Carter, 57, said one investigator told him it may have started with an electrical problem in an air conditioning unit.
It took firefighters about 30 minutes to extinguish the blaze, which left the mobile home and surrounding structural additions a charred shell.
Walls, furniture and insulation turned to ashes. Flies buzzed around a pot of uncooked stew in what used to be the kitchen. The home was not insured, Carter said.
The next day, another mobile home less than 4 miles away suffered a similar fate.
A child playing with a lighter sparked a fire Monday morning at 11318 Pine St., Yeakley said. The blaze left a family of six homeless.
"When I opened up the door to my daughter's room, I saw a big flame out of nowhere," said Willie Cooper, 34, who lived in the home with his wife and four children. "I knew right then that we were in trouble."
As flames shot from the house, neighbors tried to help.
"My husband ran and grabbed a hose," said Donna Riley, who lives next door with her family.
Firefighters brought the fire under control within 25 minutes, Yeakley said. But the fire destroyed the home, causing at least $50,000 in damage — including clothing, toy cars, baby dolls and little army men.
"Everything my wife worked hard for, gone in a matter of minutes," Cooper said.
He said his family, which did not have renter's insurance, received assistance from the Red Cross and hopes to move to a nearby home.
A combination of intense heat and lightweight materials makes mobile homes particularly vulnerable in a fire, Yeakley said.
"Unfortunately, when you have a fire, a lot of that stuff will burn," he said. "And when it does, it burns so readily and so quickly."
Carter left his house, which stood behind his parents' home, for 15 minutes to go to the store Sunday afternoon. When he returned, he could see smoke billowing from a distance.
"I never in my life would have thought something could burn so fast," he said.
About $1,000 worth of new hardwood flooring and a brand new big-screen TV were destroyed in the fire, he said.
On Tuesday, Hillsborough County code investigator Dennis Clift stopped by and asked if Carter planned to rebuild. Carter said family members found him a temporary trailer to live in.
"Give me a chance to get over this and I'll get something that I want," he said. "This is the nicest thing I've ever owned."
But the biggest loss was Buddy, a dog he named after his father. His other dogs are little comfort.
"They can't take his place," Carter said.
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Catherine E. Shoichet can be reached at 661-2454 or firstname.lastname@example.org.