Man dies in Winter Haven house fire

By Rick Elmhorst, Anchor\Reporter
Last Updated: Thursday, January 12, 2017, 9:49 AM EST

A Winter Haven man is dead after a house fire Wednesday morning on Timberline Road.

  • Flames broke out late Wednesday morning
  • Neighbors say they attempted to rescue the man
  • Three dogs were saved by firefighters

Invesitgators say the fire started a few minutes before 11 a.m.

Several neighbors tried to get into the house to rescue Donald Merkley, who lived there, when they saw smoke.

"So we busted the fence down," said neighbor Ron Towns, "and I kept beating on the front door and tried to get him because he's a heavy sleeper."

"I hopped over the fence real quick and I went to the back door,” added neighbor Daniel Scott. “The back door was hot to the touch.”

Both Towns and Scott decided it was too dangerous. 

"The neighbor next to him tried to open the garage door and that's when all the smoke came billowing out to where we knew we needed to just back away from it,” said Towns.

By the time fire crews got there a few minutes later, it was too late. The 67-year-old man who lived in the home was dead.

"It's tough to lose a neighbor that you are basically friends with, knowing there is nothing you can do to save him,” said Towns.

Firefighters were able to save three dogs that lived in the home. The cause of the fire hasn’t been released yet.