Police probe fire in home where 5 bodies were found
Homeless man says he was the only survivor of the blaze.
DAYTON — Dayton officials on Thursday said investigators are continuing to seek answers about a West Dayton house fire after which five people were found dead, while the Dayton Daily News spoke to a man who said he was the only survivor of the blaze.
City officials have not released the identities and causes of death of the five people found in the 500 block of North Broadway on Wednesday. Fire officials are still working to determine the cause and origin of the fire, which they said burned hot enough to melt firefighters’ helmets as they entered the property.
A 22-year-old homeless man named Jordan Trent said Thursday he was staying in the property and that he barely made it out alive and he fears a few of his friends might be dead.
“When I woke up, half the room was on fire and I scrambled to get my (stuff ) together and get out of there,” Trent said.
He said multiple people stayed at the North Broadway Street property most nights because it was in good shape and safe, and he said it almost felt like a small community.
The home was purchased last year by a limited liability company, and the city said it was not on the nuisance list and did not have any outstanding code violations. Trent said it was one of the nicer abandoned properties in the neighborhood.
Trent, who said he moved to Dayton after losing his job with a carnival in Indiana, was staying in a downstairs room that provided easy access to the back door.
He said he doesn’t know who was sleeping upstairs, and he thinks a couple of his friends might be dead, both male and female.
Trent said he didn’t know what caused the blaze. The house did not have electricity, water or heat, and gas service hadn’t been active for about a decade, so the group used candles and a heater.
City, police discuss fire
The heat from the fire was so intense that it melted firefighters’ helmets as they tried to search the large, two-story house, where the bodies of the five people were recovered.
“This is indeed a tragic, tragic event,” Dayton City Manager Shelley Dickstein said during a Thursday afternoon media briefing. “Tragic for the victims and their families, tragic for our first-responders who had to respond to such a dangerous event, and tragic for the community overall.”
The victims’ identities and causes of death were not released.
Fire crews responded at about 4 a.m. Wednesday to the fire. The property was not boarded by the city, and it had no code violations, Dickstein said. In December, the property was transferred to a new owner for $70,000.
Crews responding to the fire could see thick smoke from a mile away. When they arrived, there was heavy fire coming from both floors in the back of the 7,000-squarefoot, two-story house.
“The firefighters that made entry finally had to pull back because their helmets were melting. That’s an incredible amount of heat,” Dayton Fire Chief Jeff Lykins said.
“When we pulled up to the scene there was fire blowing out of the majority of the windows in that section of the property, so really nonsurvivable conditions. Nonetheless, crews went in to try to extinguish the fire and do a primary search and were driven back, also due in part to the collapse.”
After the first body was discovered, the Ohio Task Force 1 urban search and rescue team based in Vandalia provided two cadaver dogs that Lykins said were instrumental in helping to find some of the other bodies in the fire debris.
By 9:45 p.m., five bodies had been recovered and crews had been on the scene for 18 hours.
“Crews did an incredible job, very trying conditions,” said Lykins, who added that many of the firefighters on scene were newer recruits.
Fire investigators are working to determine the cause and origin of the fire.
“We may never know the cause of the fire. That said, it’s still an open and active investigation,” said Lykins said.
Trent said he lost nearly everything he owned in the fire, including his wallet, phone, laptop and tablet. He said all he saved was a small box of tools.
Trent said he didn’t have shoes on when he fled the fire, and he stepped on a nail or a screw when he went to retrieve his boots and he suffered a deep puncture wound.
“It was bad. I couldn’t even walk yesterday,” said Trent, whose hands were still covered in soot and blood on Thursday.
Homeless people and squatters often stay in these homes because it’s better than “freezing to death” trying to sleep under a bridge or highway overpass, he said.
“All we’re doing is try to get warm and stay safe during the night,” he said.
Trent said he doesn’t know where he’ll stay next. After the fire, he said police chased him out of a different abandoned property he was hoping to occupy.
Dayton police Lt. Col. Eric Henderson said the Dayton Police Department has received four calls for service at the address, including multiple alarm calls.
Most recently, on Feb. 22 there was a call about a burglary in process, but no one was found, and there was a second call was made on Feb. 24 for trespassing, but no officers encountered anyone, Henderson said.
Henderson said Dayton homicide detectives are assisting fire investigators.
Lykins said there was one prior fire at the house in 2002, when it was noted the house was being used as “an illegal boarding home.”
Although the fire has not been determined to have directly caused the deaths of the five people, it was the second fire this week in Dayton after which a person was found dead.
Darlene Alston, 71, was found dead on Sunday following a house fire in the 300 block of Ashwood Avenue. That fire, which also remains under investigation, was the first deadly fire this year in the city.
There were six fire fatalities reported over the previous three years.