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Man, 28, who slept while smoking dies in Tampa fire

Michael James O'Connor was smoking a cigarette on the couch of his Sulphur Springs home early Tuesday when he fell asleep.

O'Connor, 28, may have awakened to find his legs on fire, Tampa fire officials said, and crawled into a back bedroom to escape.

He didn't make it. It seems O'Connor was overcome by thick, black smoke and died at the scene, Tampa fire Capt. Bill Wade said.

O'Connor was the seventh person to die in a Tampa fire this year, the same number of people who perished in all of 1996.

"This is very disconcerting for us," Wade said.

Firefighters were called to the one-alarm fire at 8117 N 14th St. just after 7:30 a.m., Wade said. They found a small blaze on the south side of the single story wood frame house. A dozen firefighters were called to the scene.

The fire was under control about 30 minutes later.

O'Connor was found dead in his bedroom, kneeling near a back wall on the north side of the house.

John Young, 33, was in the neighborhood when he saw flames shooting out of the side of the home, he said. Young tried to get to O'Connor by breaking several windows, but he couldn't get inside. He then ran for a garden hose.

"I used the garden hose and started watering down the house," Young said. "But I was standing next to the air conditioner when blue flames started shooting out."

O'Connor, who owned the home, lived alone, Wade said.

There have been two other fires this year involving death. In January, two people died in a house fire that was deliberately set. In February, four children perished in their home when a fire broke out in the living room.

Fire officials said burglar bars on the windows of the home may have prevented the children from escaping or being rescued.

The Tampa Fire Department has free smoke detectors and batteries for low income, elderly or disabled residents.

To arrange for a firefighter to install a detector, call 274-7126.

_ Times staff writer Jim Stem contributed to this story.