TARPON SPRINGS — A fire took Dr. Frederick Roever's life, but a fiery passion to help others is how he'll be remembered, many who knew him said Friday.
"He was a humanitarian," Dr. David Lindberg said as he stood outside the charred remains of Roever's home, choking back tears. "The thing to remember is how many people he helped. He's helped so many people."
Tarpon Springs Mayor Beverley Billiris has known Roever for 30 years and lives on the same street.
"He was a very giving individual," Billiris said. "This is one of the biggest tragedies our city can experience in losing him in such a way."
Fire gutted the million-dollar home at 1304 Belcher Drive, where Dr. Roever, 69, and his wife Patricia, 60, lived alone, authorities said.
Mrs. Roever was able to escape the flames and call 911 at about 11:30 p.m. Thursday to report a mattress fire. Police and firefighters arrived to find the house in flames and her outside, but Dr. Roever was missing.
Firefighters fought the blaze for hours, but couldn't get into the home to search for Dr. Roever until Friday afternoon because the structure was unstable. Investigators found a body on the second floor, but authorities wouldn't confirm it was Dr. Roever.
Lt. Barb Templeton, Tarpon Springs police spokeswoman, said the Pinellas County Medical Examiner's office will determine identification and the cause of death.
She also said Tarpon Springs police are working with the Bureau of Fire and Arson Division of the State Fire Marshal to determine the origin and cause of the fire.
But Lindberg, who was introduced to his wife in 1977 by Roever, said Mrs. Roever explained what happened.
"She told me that it involved an electric blanket and then there was a fire, and he (Dr. Roever) was trying to get the mattress fire out," Lindberg said. "She's in shock."
Mrs. Roever is staying with Lindberg and his wife, he said.
Firefighters said the blaze was a difficult fire to battle.
"There's a lot of trees that were blocking access and the house was kind of recessed on the property," said Don Sayre, a Tarpon Springs fire division chief. "As soon as the firefighters opened the front door, they were hit with a wall of flame.
"They tried to do an aggressive attack, but they were forced out. It was impossible to fight from the interior."
Soon after firefighters arrived the roof collapsed, Sayre said, further complicating rescue efforts. Seventeen units from Safety Harbor, Palm Harbor, Tarpon Springs, Clearwater and East Lake responded.
Frederick Roever practiced internal and geriatric medicine in Tarpon Springs and he also taught at the University of South Florida. He also practiced at Helen Ellis Memorial Hospital in Tarpons Springs.
Neighbor Teresa Godbolt said she was awakened by her dogs barking Thursday about 11:30 p.m.
"I saw the glimmer of flames off windows of neighboring homes," Godbolt said. "The flames were unreal. The whole center of the home was engulfed."
Godbolt said the flames reached up to 30 or 40 feet in the air. Once a body was found Friday afternoon, Godbolt stood outside and said a prayer.
"It's just so sad," she said.
Authorities were able to salvage some jewelry and a Fender Stratocaster guitar. Roever and his son, Christopher, would often play in a band at local Tarpon Springs festivals.
All spoke highly of Dr. Roever, who had two children. Daughter Cynthia will complete her residency in May and Christopher is currently in medical school.
"He lived medicine," said neighbor Frances Plummer. "He was a very loving, giving, compassionate person."
Members of the Helen Ellis Memorial Hospital staff also spoke fondly of him.
"He was like a backbone to the community and a very caring doctor," said Jackie Vazzarino, who works in marketing.
Naomi Patterson, who works in cardiology at the hospital, said she knew him for 30 years. He is a legend in Tarpon Springs and at the hospital, she said.
"He practiced medicine with a passion," she said.
Dr. Roever, who spent time working in El Salvador providing free medical treatment to the poor, was the last doctor in the area who still made house calls, said Anita Protos, former mayor of Tarpon Springs.
Protos said he was a Vietnam veteran who was instrumental in getting a statue to honor veterans at Spring Bayou in the city.
"He was on the front lines, doing surgery on our sons and daughters to make sure they made it home," she said.
A member of the U.S. Army, Roever was awarded the Bronze Star. He was also the co-founder of the War Memorial of Tarpon Springs.
Neighbors said his 6,757-square-foot home was the first house built on the street in 1981. The house is valued at more than $950,000. Friday afternoon, the home with a look of old New Orleans with the white paint and green accents was rendered destroyed.
"If you needed medical care, (Dr. Roever) would give it to you no matter what," Protos said. "Tarpon is sad today. It's a very sad day in Tarpon."
Times Staff Writer Andy Boyle contributed to this article. Demorris A. Lee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4174