SEBRING - Stephen Grippo believed he was dreaming about a fire early Monday morning when he was jolted awake by the screams of his wheelchair-bound grandmother in the next room.
The reality of those tense moments was setting in about five hours later as Grippo described his efforts to get his grandmother and his girlfriend out of the burning mobile home on Green Acre Way in Sebring. Five puppies and a cat perished in the fire.
Grippo is the caregiver for his 80-year-old grandmother, Lucille Grippo, who had a major stroke in 2006 and was released from the hospital emergency room Saturday after suffering a minor stroke.
From outside the mobile home, Stephen Grippo said it was around 4:30 a.m. when he was alerted to the fire.
"I remember dreaming about being in a fire. I think I was smelling it, but I kept sleeping, I didn't awaken," he said.
His grandmother's screams woke him up, but Grippo said he could only see smoke when he opened his bedroom door to enter the living room/kitchen area.
He dropped down to the floor to get under the layer of smoke.
While the fire raged in the back bedroom where there were 10 puppies and a cat, Grippo crawled to his grandmother's recliner in the living room and carried her outside.
"Luckily she was reclined back so she was about 8 or 10 inches below the smoke," Grippo noted.
He ran back inside to get his girlfriend and two dogs out.
As flames shot out of one the back bedroom's windows, he broke out the other window and used his garden hose and two hoses from a neighbor to extinguish the flames.
"The roof was collapsing ... and the insulation was on fire and I saw it spreading into the kitchen," Grippo said.
He wanted to rescue all the animals, but Grippo, who has a strong build, said he felt powerless against the smoke and flames.
"It was so blistering hot in there," he exclaimed.
Five pointer/bulldog puppies survived, but five others and a cat perished in the blaze.
The five puppies that survived were lifeless, but received oxygen from firefighters, Grippo said.
"I was just praying that they would be all right," Grippo said. "I don't know how they made it."
Firefighters from the West Sebring Volunteer Fire Department and the DeSoto City Volunteer Fire Department responded to the blaze.
DeSoto City VFD Lt. Scott Kaplan said the fire was mostly under control when his department arrived. He estimated the damage at about $20,000.
The State Fire Marshal's Office is investigating the cause of the fire.
Lucille Grippo said, "Thank God we had a neighbor who was nice enough to come over and help us."
Her son-in law, Mike Deery, said his brother-in law who lives in Texas was handling the finances and the mortgage on the mobile home.
His brother-in law told him he couldn't get insurance for the mobile home after the 2005 hurricanes, Deery said.
Grippo said his grandmother lost everything and all he has left are his work clothes.
Deery explained that Grippo had been doing a lot of remodeling work in the mobile home.
"He was in the process of redoing this whole trailer," he said. "He just put these nice wood floors down. He redid all the cabinets. He put in new sinks and counter tops."
Deery said he was going to set up an account to accept donations in Lucille's name at Highlands Independent Bank.