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Twins die in mobile home fire

It only took a few minutes for Vanya Tyndall to go to a neighbor's house to borrow onions and mustard. But a few minutes is all it took for her mobile home to catch on fire, trapping her 2-year-old twins inside.

Both Jasmine and Trace Tyndall were killed Friday in the blaze at 1418 Eva Ave. in west Lakeland.

"The mother was cooking dinner and thought she turned everything off before leaving," Lakeland Fire Department spokeswoman Cheryl Wahl said. "When she came out of the neighbor's house her home was fully engulfed in flames."

Neighbors said Tyndall, 25, screamed and tried to get into the home. But the flames were too hot and windows were beginning to burst, sending glass flying.

"I smelled the smoke and heard crackling and screaming," said Curtis Watson, a neighbor who tried to free the children. "I ran up and asked if everyone was out of the house and she said no, her two kids were inside. But the fire was rolling out and I couldn't get close enough."

The twin toddlers died as 17 firefighters from the Lakeland Fire Department worked to put out the flames. Fire Capt. Mike Douglas said Vanya Tyndall received minor burns on her feet and face when she tried to rescue the children.

"I'm just shocked because she never left those kids alone," said neighbor Sandra Gonzalez. "If those kids were out in the yard she was with them. And if she wasn't with them, they weren't in the yard."

Red and yellow Little Tykes cars sat Friday afternoon near the chain-link fence that surrounds the yard, and a small plastic pool was pushed under the porch steps. Inside the yard, a white sheet draped the bodies of the toddlers as investigators tried to sort out what happened.

Gonzalez said Tyndall lived in the home with the toddlers, and another son who is 6 or 7 years old. A man also stayed at the home, Gonzalez said, but she didn't know his relationship to Tyndall.

"She was a very nice person and took care of those kids," Gonzalez said. "She gave me a baby crib when my baby was born. Someone had given it to her, and she wanted to give it to me. That's just the kind of person she is."

Investigators had difficulty getting information from Tyndall because she is hearing-impaired. But they said Friday night they think the mother had put the children to sleep before starting to cook and going to the neighbor's house.

Douglas said investigators think the fire started in the kitchen of the the three-bedroom, singlewide mobile home. But they won't have an official cause until they get the results of laboratory tests.

It took firefighters 15 minutes to put out most of the flames.

"The older model trailers have a very quick burn time," Douglas said. "They can burn completely in seven to 10 minutes."

Tyndall's home, which had an appraised value of $4,390, was built in 1973, long before building codes were strengthened for mobile homes.

Mobile home manufacturers and fire personnel reached an agreement in the late 1980s to improve the homes, Douglas said.

"The newer mobile homes have sheetrock throughout, which makes their burn time comparable to a regular home," he said. "These older trailers are just a lot of glue and wood."

Older mobile homes also can burn quickly because most have tin roofs that don't allow heat from a fire to vent through the roof. The heat builds up inside and can cause the windows to shatter, which is what happened at Tyndall's home, Douglas said.

"When the windows break there's a rush of oxygen that just fuels the fire," he said. "A lot of people try to knock out the windows in a mobile home fire thinking that will help. But that's wrong, because it just gives the fire more air."

Tyndall's home had two smoke detectors, but investigators don't know whether they were working.