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MYSTERY BLAST KILLS ONE IN SHOP

Two men tried to save the victim, but the fire was too hot.

A 22-year-old man burned to death Wednesday after a mysterious explosion rocked the automotive repair shop where he worked.

Farid IA Karakra's screams echoed through the blaze as two men tried in vain to help after hearing the bang that blew off the roof and sent two garage doors off their tracks.

By the time firefighters arrived at the Citgo gas station shortly after midnight, the mechanic was dead, leaving only questions for those who knew and cared for him.

"Do you think he cried?" 10-year-old Reasie Balenger asked her grandmother as they stood outside the charred building at North and Busch boulevards.

Tina Sculley, 47, manager of the deli adjoining the garage, put her arm around her granddaughter. The mechanic they nicknamed "Frito" had spent hours showing the girl how to fix cars while she visited her grandmother at work.

It was unclear late Wednesday what caused the explosion and what Karakra was doing at the garage at that hour. He had worked at the shop for about a year, Sculley said.

After the explosion, Alonzo Brown and Eric Frantz rushed to the mangled garage doors and found a man burning inside the service bay.

"He was engulfed," Brown said. "That's something you never want to see or hear again."

Brown and Frantz, both 37, had arrived at midnight for a shift at Nicola's Donuts, across the street from the gas station.

The pair said they tried to help Karakra, but it was too hot and probably too late. The closest they could get was tapping his boot with a stick, Brown said.

Two Tampa police officers arrived, but they too were stifled by the intense heat.

Finally, a Tampa Fire Rescue crew pulled Karakra from the garage, but Tampa Fire Rescue spokesman Bill Wade said he was already dead.

Firefighters had the blaze under control in about 30 minutes, Wade said.

An arson task force was working to find out what caused the fire and "determine if there's anything suspicious or if it was accidental," Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said. A police bomb squad unit and agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation were also on scene.

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