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Tampa fire kills woman, 81, injures son

TAMPA — As Jerry Haymon sat on his front porch Friday night, he saw smoke coming from a house across the street and ran to help.

Outside, a woman and her son begged him to kick the door in, but he found that the fire was too hot.

Inside, an 81-year-old woman died, and her son was injured trying to save her, Tampa police said.

The fire started just before 10:20 p.m. at 2922 E 21st Ave. Gloria Smith may have accidently sparked the fire by smoking a cigarette on a couch in her mother-in-law suite at the back of the home, Tampa Fire Rescue said.

Smith's son, Gregory Polite, who also lives at the address, tried to save her, but the flames were too intense to reach the back bedroom. Polite, 58, made it back to the porch, where Haymon and neighbor Van Bryant found him face down, unable to move but still conscious.

Haymon and Van Bryant helped pull him to safety. Polite suffered second-degree burns and smoke inhalation. He was in serious condition Saturday evening at Tampa General Hospital.

"I could feel his skin peeling off as I got up under his arms to pull him out," Haymon said. "He said, 'My momma is in there.' "

Firefighters found Smith on the bathroom floor, police said. The medical examiner will determine an exact cause of death.

Polite's wife and 8-year-old stepson escaped the house unharmed.

The wooden house, built in 1925, was destroyed. On Saturday, blue shutters dangled from the house's charred white frame. A burned sofa sat on the front porch, where Smith often used to relax on summer afternoons.

Whenever Haymon saw her, he'd say hello. Now, he says, whenever he looks at the house he'll remember the fire.

Times Staff Writer Shelley Rossetter contributed to this report. Sarah Whitman can be reached at (813) 661-2439 or

Tampa fire kills woman, 81, injures son 09/24/11 [Last modified: Saturday, September 24, 2011 10:08pm]
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