TAMPA — Michelle Hayes wasn't going to leave her mother behind. She didn't, not even at the very end.
Hillsborough County firefighters battling a house fire Monday afternoon at 4627 Burkett Circle found two bodies inside. The fire department had not released the identities of the bodies by late Monday, but neighbors said the bodies were those of Virginia Jones, 71, and her daughter, Michelle Hayes, 51.
Neighbor Wendy Williams said Hayes lived at the house with her mother and her mother's common-law husband, Louis Johnson. Hayes helped take care of her mother, whose health had been declining in recent years and who used an oxygen tank, she said.
Hayes had recently bought a minivan, which she used to help take her mother to doctor's appointments, Williams said.
Investigators said the fire started shortly before 4 p.m. Williams said Hayes called Johnson, who had gone out to run an errand, and said the house was on fire. Johnson called Williams' husband, who confirmed the news.
While Johnson battled traffic racing to get back home, the Williamses called 911 and tried using a garden hose to put out the fire. They didn't have much luck.
“The house was in flames,'' Williams said. “We tried to help them out.''
The home was heavily involved in flames by the time firefighters arrived. They had to attack the fire from outside at first; by the time they were able to do a search inside, it was too late.
Williams said Hayes worked for a contractor at MacDill Air Force Base. She described Hayes as a loving daughter who would not have left her mother in the house, even to save herself.
Neighbor Clint Gasque said he went over to the house when he saw the smoke. He grabbed a log from the yard and slammed it 10 or 12 times against the front window, eventually breaking through.
“I pulled the curtain back; there was so much black smoke you couldn't see anything in the house,'' Gasque said.
He grabbed a garden hose and tried spraying inside, to no avail. He said he could hear small explosions, then big explosions he thinks might have been related to the oxygen tank. “It sounded like a hand grenade,'' Gasque said. “It shook the block.''
Gasque said Jones and Hayes were friendly and nice people and popular in the neighborhood.
“They were good people,'' Gasque said. “It's going to be sad that they are gone.''