DUNEDIN — On Thanksgiving morning, Maurice Upton started his day like he always does, watching the news. Lately, the 71-year-old has turned the TV’s volume up higher and higher. He’d just made an appointment to get his ears checked a few days ago.
Yet he could hear the woman three doors down from him calling for help on Thursday.
Upton had never met his neighbor living in Apartment D. Only later that day would he learn the 82-year-old’s name was Pat.
Once Upton realized what he was hearing, he ran outside and saw flames and smoke billowing from Patricia Mitchell’s apartment.
As Upton ran to Mitchell’s door, he yelled at a neighbor who’d stepped outside to call 911.
“The fire was screaming over my head,” Upton said. “It was surging out of my neighbor’s like it was a tornado or something inside.”
Upton pulled Mitchell’s screen door open. The front door to the apartment was already ajar, and he saw the woman lying on her back in the entryway.
The fire was roaring and gnawing its way outside, Upton said. Flames were licking all around him.
Despite the immense heat, he grabbed Mitchell by her legs and pulled her outside. By the time Upton had gotten her out of the apartment, around 9:13 a.m., Dunedin Fire Rescue, paramedics and the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office had arrived at the apartment complex, 1695 Lakeview Lane, and the fire was extinguished.
Mitchell was taken to a local hospital on Thursday in serious condition. On Friday, the Sheriff’s Office said Mitchell had died several hours after the incident.
Detectives say the fire appears to be accidental, but the Sheriff’s Office is continuing to investigate. The Medical Examiner’s Office will conduct an autopsy to determine Mitchell’s cause of death, the Sheriff’s Office said.
“I was really happy at least I did what I could do,” Upton said. “I did what I could do to get her to the hospital alive.”
Neighbors in the complex are looking for Mitchell’s cat that ran from the flames on Thursday. Upton said the cat ran from the apartment with its back legs burned, then dropped to the ground and rolled. Neighbors tried to catch the cat, but it ran off.
Neighbors from throughout the complex have placed flowers at Mitchell’s door, Upton said. They have also been stopping at his door to leave flowers and cards.
Upton said he has been trying to make sense of the traumatic experience. He appreciates when neighbors stop by and talk. Upton said it’s helping him heal.
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Upton learned that Mitchell had died from a neighbor who checked on her from time to time. He also learned that Mitchell, who lived alone, was on oxygen and that she’d just had her power turned off because of overdue bills. He wishes there had been someone around to check on her more and help her out.
Upton described the traumatic situation as an “out of body” experience. He said he could feel the heat rolling off the fire, but he kept going. When he saw Mitchell lying on the floor, he knew he couldn’t leave her.
“I’m not a fanatic, spiritual fanatic person, you know, but something had to have intervened,” said Upton, who was not injured in the incident. “Even for me to hear this woman, when nobody close heard.
“It opened my ears, and I just reacted from that,” he said.