Jim King was at his fiancee's home watching four young children Tuesday evening when an extension cord running underneath a bed short-circuited.
That sparked a fire that quickly grew in strength, authorities said. By the time firefighters got the flames under control 30 minutes later, the house at 5609 12th Ave S was in ruins.
Now, a family is on the brink of homelessness just weeks before Christmas.
King, 33, often watches over the children while their mother, Jennifer Riber, 26, works.
"We've had a lot of offers of help," said Diane Shepherd, 48, Riber's mother. "Right now, what we need is to find a place for them to live."
Shepherd said her daughter was working at a new job at Pay-Less Shoe Stores on Tuesday evening. King came to the house, which Riber rented, to watch over the four young children, who are between the ages of 3 and 8.
Friends are trying to raise money for the family. For now, they are staying at a hotel with the help of the Red Cross.
Lt. Pete Huffman of Gulfport Fire & Rescue said the short-circuited extension cord, which ran under the bed to a television in the master bedroom, set the mattress on fire about 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. After a smoke detector went off, King tried to extinguish the flames with a bucket of water.
It didn't work. And after King lifted the bed, the fire spun out of control, Huffman said.
King and the children fled, along with a family friend. As firefighters arrived to put out the flames, neighbors watched the strange scene.
"Things like that usually don't happen here," said Julie Long, 51, a neighbor.
Huffman said the flames effectively destroyed the house. Heat and smoke wrecked whatever the flames didn't burn.
Times researcher Angie Drobnic Holan contributed to this report. Abhi Raghunathan can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8472.
Anyone who wants to donate money can mail a check to:
244 25th St. N
St. Petersburg 33713