Fatal fire saddens community

Published May 10, 2007

The noise from explosions jolted Betty Supak from her sleep, sending tremors of fear through her body. The 68-year-old woman looked out her bedroom window Wednesday morning to see flames shooting out of the mobile home two doors down. Fire detonated paint cans like shooting cannons. "It was frightening, " Supak recalled Wednesday afternoon outside the charred mobile home. "Everyone was terrified."

A woman inside the unit died in the fire, Hillsborough County fire officials said. Authorities had not released her name Wednesday, pending notification of next of kin. Neighbors said a woman named Barbara Hallmark, 69, lived alone in the mobile home.

They spent Wednesday assuming it was she who perished and remembered her as an eccentric woman who was proud of her slim figure. As neighbors gathered outside Hallmark's home in Rose Lake Estates off Florida Avenue, they recalled how she would walk around in her bathing suit and spend endless afternoons by the pool. She bought her suits at consignment shops and owned more than 20, they guessed. She wore a different one each day of the week and would change two, sometimes three times a day.

"People said she looked like Loretta Lynn, " said Juliette Holley, a former neighbor who said she was the only neighbor ever invited inside Hallmark's home. "She said men like the long hair."

Holley said her visit inside Hallmark's home several years ago was brief.

Hallmark's cat died a few years ago, and she never got another. She used to work as a meat packer and was divorced, Holley said.

Hallmark kept up with celebrity news, her favorite author was Anne Rice, and she didn't like to cook. She wore vintage clothing and enjoyed shopping for her grandchildren at Christmas, friends said. She often visited her daughter, who lives near Brooksville.

She was devastated when her son died in 1995 and kept his truck parked in her carport, neighbors said. She refused to sell it, letting it just sit there, untouched.

The truck and her car burned in the fire. Fire officials have not determined the cause of the blaze, which broke out about 1:45 a.m.

Tuesday afternoon, Hallmark had spent time at Supak's home. They chatted about their grandchildren and books. She left before dinner and was spotted parking her red Grand Prix about 10 p.m., Supak said.

"We are very saddened, " Supak said. "It's just very, very tragic."

Dong-Phuong Nguyen can be reached at nguyen@sptimes.com or (813) 269-5312.