Erma Dawson was sitting on the front porch resting her bad heart Wednesday afternoon when she heard a pop, then an explosion at the back of her rental property.
She ran inside to a bedroom door, banging frantically to alert an elderly boarder. "Mr. Pittman, Mr. Pittman! A fire! A fire!" she shouted.
He didn't respond, and she ran outside.
Tampa firefighters discovered the body of Dwellie Pittman, 75, in the center bedroom of the frame house at 1910 W Laurel St. shortly after 6 p.m. The state fire marshal and arson investigators were trying late Wednesday to determine the cause of the fire that gutted the home.
Isaac Turner, a roommate of Pittman's, said this is the second time this year the two men have been victimized by a fire. Several months ago, Turner said, the two were living in a boarding house on Main Street when fire broke out.
Both men escaped, but the house was gutted.
Mrs. Dawson, who lives elsewhere in West Tampa, said she inherited the old building from a cousin. She rented out rooms to Pittman, Turner, 58, and Jerry Brown, 38. Pittman was a retiree who sometimes worked at landscaping jobs, she said.
Brown said he returned home from work after the fire started. The third tenant was not home at the time. The building had a gas stove and heater in the area where Mrs. Dawson said she heard the explosion.
A firefighter was injured when a high-pressure hose broke several feet from a fire truck. A blast of water hit the firefighter, whose name was not available.
He was taken to Tampa General Hospital for treatment, but his condition was not available late Wednesday. Fire officials said he suffered minor injuries.