TAMPA — Debbie Ford wasn't hurt when a two-alarm blaze ripped through her nephew's home on Gardenside Lane on Thursday morning. But Tippy, her 13-year-old companion cat, died in the fire.
Ford, 50, who has multiple sclerosis, was at the dentist when she heard about the fire. She hoped Tippy would be okay.
Instead, when the flames were extinguished, she had lost the friend that had helped her through the trials of illness. The gray and white mixed-breed cat was even the screen saver on her cell phone.
"When I was feeling my worst, she would come and lie on top of me and try to comfort me," Ford said.
Tippy had moved with Ford from Arizona to Lake City before they settled in Tampa.
They lived with her nephew, Nick Grecco, a divorced father raising an 8-year-old daughter. Ford doesn't get enough in Social Security payments to live on her own.
Now, the fire is just one more worry for her nephew.
At the end of June, he expects to be laid off from his marketing job at GE Healthcare.
Capt. Ray Yeakley, spokesman for Hillsborough County Fire Rescue, estimated the damage at $110,000.
No one was home during the fire and investigators were still trying to pinpoint the cause Thursday.
The flames ate huge holes in the roof over the kitchen, living room and garage, charring some belongings and leaving the home uninhabitable, Yeakley said.
"I have no clue what we're going to do," Ford's nephew said, hoping he can retrieve some of their belongings. "My daughter has had the same security blanket her entire life," he said. "I know she couldn't stand to lose it."
Ford said she was happy that none of her family members was hurt. She had just taken her granddaughter home to Ocala Wednesday, after a visit. Otherwise, the two may have been home at the time of the fire.
"I'm glad this happened today and not yesterday," she said. "We're very lucky."
Still, she said, "I just wish my cat was all right."
Robbyn Mitchell can be reached
or (813) 269-5313.