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Friday, Apr 18, 2014
Crime & Courts

Dad speaks of losing daughter in Ruskin fire

Published:   |   Updated: February 16, 2014 at 11:17 AM

Monico Carmona Jr. said his 4-year-old daughter, Alejandra, was toward the rear of their mobile home when it caught fire at about 11:30 p.m. Friday.

He and his girlfriend managed to get his two younger children and her son outside before flames engulfed the building, but they couldn't reach the little girl.

Alejandra died in the inferno.

Fire officials on Saturday still were investigating the blaze at Wolfs Mobile Home Park.

Carmona, 30, was being treated for burns and cuts at Tampa General Hospital, where he spoke by telephone Saturday evening. The other children and Carmona's girlfriend were not badly injured.

When firefighters arrived at the mobile home park in Ruskin late Friday, they couldn't immediately get to one side of the mobile home because the fire had knocked down live power lines, said Chip Shields of Hillsborough County Fire Rescue. Once TECO crews secured the downed lines, firefighters brought the blaze under control, Shields said.

Carmona has burns on his hands and ears, and cuts from trying to move furniture and punch through windows to get to his children, he said.

The fire started while everyone was asleep, Carmona said.

His girlfriend, who had come over to celebrate Valentine's Day, woke him up and said she smelled something burning, Carmona said. He saw smoke coming from the bed and ran to get a cup of water.

Pouring water on the bed only fueled the fire, Carmona said. He ran back to the front of the mobile home for more water, and as he rushed back he saw his girlfriend running out of the home with his 7-month-old son. The couple also was able to grab his 2-year-old daughter, as well as the girlfriend's son.

At that point the smoke was too thick to see, Carmona said. He could hear power lines sparking, and one of them fell on his truck in front of the home, setting it on fire.

A neighbor knocked out a back window and tried to move a bunk bed in order to get to Alejandra, Carmona said. He heard other neighbors yelling for her to come closer to the window where they hoped to reach her.

“There was nothing I could do,” Carmona said. “It was just so hot; it was unbearable.”

Carmona said he hasn't been able to see his other two children since the fire because of a custody disagreement with their mother, from whom he is estranged.

Carmona said he doesn't know what caused the fire, only that it started near the center of his bed. He said neither he nor his girlfriend smoke. The couple had lit small candles for Valentine's Day hours before the fire, but had blown them out. Even if they hadn't, Carmona said, they would have burned down long before the fire started.

He said he and his children moved into the mobile home park, which is just north of College Avenue, in early January. Carmona, who grew up in the Ruskin area, works at nearby Plants of Ruskin, a garden center and landscape business.

One of the family's two dogs also died in the fire, said Carmona's brother, Fabian Villarreal. The other dog was missing Saturday.

The fire destroyed the mobile home and two vehicles parked in front of it. On Saturday neighbors left flowers at one end of the rubble in memory of Alejandra.

Tribune reporter Lois Kindle contributed to this report.


Twitter: @LizBehrmanTBO