TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A recent fire at a mobile home in Hillsborough County took the lives of two children and a father.
It also brought to light the special danger that residents of mobile homes can face.
Now, 8 On Your Side is taking a deeper look at those dangers and we’re revealing some steps you can take to protect yourself.
It’s a gut-wrenching sight. Elijah Lopez, 3, standing outside what used to be his home in Lithia. Just hours before, on April 17, the scene is where Elijah lost his sister, brother and dad.
“He was a hard working man, took care of his babies,” said relative Suzette Pena.
Now, two weeks later, the cause of this fire is still under investigation.
But this triple fatal is just the latest in a string of non-deadly blazes at manufactured homes.
Within the past year, our cameras have captured more than a dozen separate fires across the Tampa Bay area. Tampa Fire Rescue Captain Henry Williams has seen it first hand.
“It’s something that you can never get used to,” said Captain Williams.
The pain when you get to the scene fast but still, too late to save a life.
“Fire spreads rapidly, it doubles in size every minute,” said Captain Williams. “That one breath of smoke can incapacitate you.”
So who is responsible for maintenance?
In most communities, it’s the owner of the mobile home, not the park.
Fire officials say to protect yourself, you need a working smoke detector in every room, plus an escape plan—two ways out of every room.
Research shows when fires happen at mobile home communities, it’s more deadly.
“They’re 50% more deadly,” said Birgitte Messerschmidt.
Messerschmidt heads research at the National Fire Protection Association or NFPA.
She examined federal data from 2016 to 2020, looking at deaths per 1,000 fires.
She found for single and multi-family homes, there were nearly 16 deaths per 1,000 fires. For manufactured homes, that number spiked to 24 deaths.
“Manufactured homes are very small so the fires will develop even faster and toxic smoke will spread even faster,” said Messerschmidt.
NFPA’s guidance to anyone facing a fire: Get out fast.
Once the smoke alarm sounds, you have as little as one to two minutes to safely escape.
Russ Klemm, Esq. is an attorney who represents tenants at mobile home parks.
He says unlike other homes, mobile homes are inspected by the manufacturer, not the city or the county.
“A lot of mobile homes have been sold two or maybe three times, you may be talking about a mobile home that’s been moved several times,” said Mr. Klemm. “When you move a mobile home, it’s a big deal, damage can be done to the utilities, it can be done to other sections of the mobile home, and that’s quite common.”
In 1976, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development or HUD passed stricter fire requirements for mobile homes.
Residents in homes that pre-date that should be extra cautious.
“I think in Florida what you’re starting to see is the age of the average mobile home is increasing,” said Mr. Klemm. “They’re not being replaced the way they should be.”
NFPA has more fire protection tips at this link.