Orlando Sentinel

'Red hot' mobile-home fire kills 3

By Valencia Prashad | Sentinel Staff Writer
Posted May 18, 2005

KISSIMMEE -- Lili Rodriguez took pride in her flower garden, and neighbors said she frequently admonished her 4-year-old son not to ride his three-wheeler in the street.

Residents of Whispering Oaks mobile-home park Tuesday grieved the apparent deaths of Rodriguez, her husband, Moises Matute, and their son, Kenneth Matute, after an early-morning fire consumed their home.

Firefighters responded to a call at 2:45 a.m. and found the mobile home engulfed. The bodies of three people, including a child, were found inside. The cause of the blaze is being investigated, and it is not known whether the family used a smoke detector. Neighbors said Rodriguez liked to burn candles.

Authorities said Tuesday night they had not positively identified the victims. But neighbors identified the family who lived in the home, and the owner of the park said relatives were en route from New York.

Rodriguez's garden, including flowers and a shiny sprinkler, were all that remained unscathed in front her home Tuesday. Neighbors say they will miss the happy, dark-haired boy who rode his three-wheeler in front of the well-kept home.

Anne Smith, who lives two doors down, made the 911 call after she was awakened by her dog Gracie, a miniature greyhound. Smith, 68, said she went knocking on doors to alert everyone.

At the time, neighbors didn't know whether anyone was inside the home, but they couldn't get near the structure, Smith said, because the fire was "red hot."

Flames were shooting out the window that held an air conditioner, said Wade Choate, another neighbor.

Smith was grateful her dog woke her up, she said, because she has an oxygen tank and a compensator, which makes oxygen, in her room and a propane tank behind her home. She also has two smoke alarms. They were not activated by the fire, she said.

"I'm very conscious of how fast they can go up," said Smith, who has owned the three-bedroom mobile home for almost 30 years.

Many said they heard explosions. Accounts differ, but neighbors said they heard two or three blasts. Residents say the emergency units responded quickly, but residents said the home was consumed in a matter of minutes.

The homes, which are about 15 feet apart, "go pretty fast" once they catch fire, Smith said.

The mobile home next door on Lot 36 was damaged by the fire, and the family had to be evacuated, said Officer Ralph Herrera, a Kissimmee police spokesman.

On the other side, Lot 38 was unoccupied and was damaged by the heat of the fire, said Duane Hunter, a battalion fire chief.

Two vehicles also were destroyed.

People who knew the family gathered across the street at the home of Dora Emerson later Tuesday. Rodriguez and her family had just returned Monday from a trip to New York, Emerson said. They had moved here from Long Island.

Hilda Melgar, 35, of Kissimmee mourned her tall, "elegant" friend whom she had met on her first job as a secretary in Honduras. Melgar said Rodriguez was very creative and kept a beautiful home. "She was like a sister to me."

Rodriguez liked to burn candles, Melgar and others said. She would burn them in the bedroom and the living room to "purify" the house and because she liked their fragrance, her friend said.

Matute worked in the field of dentistry and was interested in soccer, she added.

The couple's little boy was close with Melgar's two sons.