DUNEDIN, Fla. — An 82-year-old woman died from her injuries following a fire Thursday morning at her apartment, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.
Firefighters responded just after 9 a.m. to the home in the area of Palm Lake Lane and Rainbow Drive where they found the building engulfed in flames, the Dunedin Fire Department said in an earlier statement.
The woman has been identified as Patricia Mitchell. Neighbors say she lived alone.
It was one of those neighbors, Maurice Upton, who heard Mitchell's calls for help on Thursday morning and raced down the road to help her.
"There it was flames everywhere, just pouring out," Upton said. "So I had to kind of go low and I opened the screen door and that's when I seen her, you know, on her back with her feet facing the door. But I couldn't see none of the top part of her body because it was in flames."
Upton pushed through the flames, grabbing ahold of Mitchell's lower body and pulling her to safety outside.
He said two parts of what happened seemed to be divine intervention. First, that he heard her from three doors down despite recently making an appointment to get hearing aids. Second, that he walked away from the experience with just a minor burn on his thumb.
"God heard [her] voice. He sent me there and he protected me," Mitchell said.
He remains shaken by the entire experience, saying, "I haven't stopped crying yet. My eyes aren't clear now because I've been crying today."
Patricia Mitchell's neighbors say they're the closest thing she had to family.
"Everybody looks out for everybody else," said Sandra Drake, a close friend. "She was a nice person. We're all going to deeply miss her."
But like the smell of smoke in the air, frustration also lingers in the neighborhood.
"Everybody knew that this lady shouldn't be here by herself," Upton said. "Given she didn't have any family or anybody, somebody has to speak up for them, I'm trying to speak up for all our seniors."
Now, that's what he plans to do, in the memory of a neighbor, a woman he barely knew but tried his best to save.
"I just know I have to continue to figure out something and talk to somebody, try to make a difference here, not for myself but for everybody," Upton added.
Mitchell was taken to an area hospital for treatment but later died from her injuries.
An autopsy will be performed to determine a cause and manner of death, the sheriff's office said.
The cause of the fire is believed to have been accidental.