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Body discovered in house after fire

Firefighters found a man's body in a bedroom after putting out a fire Thursday afternoon.

State and county fire investigators combed the scene until late Thursday, looking for the cause of the blaze at 3901 Moran Road. Fire investigators said the body had not been positively identified.

The call came in at 3:51 p.m., and firefighters found the house heavily engulfed, Division Chief Chip Branam said. Ten units responded and had the fire under control within 15 minutes, he said.

Records show James Walter, 38, owns the house.

Cheri Merrifield, who lives next door, said she caught Walter's two German shepherds and is taking care of them. She had previously taken in his cat, Tigger, who was afraid of the dogs.

Merrifield said Walter buys and sells cars from his property.

One of those cars, a tan Corolla, was parked at the beginning of a long driveway leading to the house, near Bay Lake. It slowed down firefighters, who had to park on the street and pull hoses closer. Neighbors said Walter parks the car there for security and privacy.

Still, firefighters found a good water supply and were able to extinguish the flames quickly, Branam said.

Ebba Godwin, another neighbor, was sitting in a lawn chair reading when she heard what she thought were fireworks. "I smelled smoke then I heard something popping," she said.

Fire investigator David Tucker said authorities will make no definite conclusions about the fire until the medical examiner determines the cause of death.

"We have to leave no stone unturned in a fire fatality," Tucker said.

_ Cory Schouten can be reached at 813-226-3401 or