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One person dead after northeast London house fire

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Contractor Bennett Mikalauskis was building a deck at a northeast London home Tuesday morning when he heard a man coughing and wheezing.

Mikalauskis spotted a man with an oxygen hose hooked up to his nose and holding a phone to his ear in the backyard of the next-door house, where smoke was billowing out.

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“He kept saying, ‘My oxygen is in the house,’ and I kept asking him to come away from the house, it’s on fire, and he’s like, ‘I can’t breathe,’” Mikalauskis said.

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Mikalauskis opened the door to the house and yanked on the hose to see if he could spot the tank, but the house was filled with smoke.

“I didn’t want to go in . . . I heard it fall,” he said of the oxygen tank.

The man, who appeared to have burns on his hands and feet, told Mikalauskis that nobody else was inside, the contractor said, adding a woman pushing a stroller down the street called 911.

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London police officers and firefighters stand in the driveway of a home at 1600 Nairn Ave. in London following a fire that killed one person on Tuesday, May 14, 2024. (Derek Ruttan/The London Free Press)

“Then he told me in the driveway as fire trucks were pulling up, ‘My wife’s in the living room,’” Mikalauskis said. “I got really emotional and upset . . . I would have tried to save her, but there’s probably nothing I could have done.”

London fire department platoon chief Colin Shewell said fire crews responded shortly after 8:30 a.m. to a reported structure fire at 1600 Nairn Ave., west of Cheapside Street and Clarke Road, where firefighters found one person outside.

“At that point, they determined there was another individual possibly inside,” Shewell said, adding a deceased person was found on the main floor.

Damage to the house was significant, but it’s too early to determine a cause, he said. “The fire was put out quite quickly by our crews when they got on scene.”

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London police and Ontario’s fire marshal are both assisting in the investigation, as is routine in all cases of fatal or suspicious fires.

Forensic investigators in white suits could be seen taking photographs inside the home, while a drone flew overhead.

Police confirmed one person died and a second was taken to the hospital with unknown injuries.

As of Tuesday afternoon, police hadn’t publicly identified the person who was killed, the second fire fatality of the year in London.

Jeremy Carson, 42, was killed on March 9 when a fire ripped through his six-unit apartment at 33 Becher St., just west of downtown. The blaze destroyed the building and caused an estimated $1.5-million damage. 

Neighbours on Nairn Avenue, a quite street full of longtime residents who own their homes, said a couple in their 70s has lived at the house for more than three decades.

Mikalauskis said the couple’s daughter showed up at the scene and rode in the ambulance with her father. While firefighters began to clear the scene after two hours, the contractor struggled to come to terms with the unexpected tragedy he encountered.

“I asked him, why you didn’t tell me your wife was in there?” Mikalauskis said of the man who escaped the blaze. “He grabbed me by the arm and he was like, ‘Look, I’m just putting this all together. It’s a lot and I’m scared.’”

dcarruthers@postmedia.com

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