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Fire In Little Haiti Home Kills One Person

MIAMI (CBSMiami) –A Miami man is dead after an explosion and a fire gutted the home he lived in in Little Haiti.

A CBS4 crew took pictures inside the house and discovered some striking images and charred remains.

Panic quickly spread as neighbors heard an explosion rock the home.

"I was in my house and I heard a really loud, really loud noise. I actually thought it was like the foundation, or something, crumbling," said neighbor Caitlin Wiggins.

Although fire fighters were able to put it out quickly, people who saw the fire describe it as an inferno.

"I saw light and then a big explosion," said Eugene Zeldin, who lives behind the home in an apartment that he rents on the same property.

Zeldin told CBS4's Peter D'Oench, "It sounded like a gas station blowing up. It is very sad."

Now, investigators are trying to find out if the blaze at 54 NW 53rd Street was caused by accident, after reports that gasoline cans for scooters on the property had been stored in the home and may have ignited.

Zeldin said he spoke to some of the four people who were living in the home and who escaped without being harmed.

"They said they smelled gasoline a few hours before the fire," said Zeldin.

Miami Fire Dept. Lt. Ignatius Carroll Jr. told D'Oench, "We are looking at the person who drove a scooter with reports that containers of some type of liquid were taken inside. We're looking at the possibility of gasoline leaks from a scooter that could have been something he did, taking it inside to keep someone from taking it and the buildup of fumes could have ignited."

Zeldin said the owner of the home lived at the house along with her mother and three other men who rented rooms from her, including the unidentified man who lost his life.

Watch the report by MaryAnn Martinez, click here.

"The people come and go all the time from that home," said Zeldin. He added that he was now homeless because he was unable to live in the apartment he rented because the electricity had been turned off. Zeldin has lived on the property for the past 11 months.

Carroll said so far, arson and foul play had been ruled out. He said an autopsy would probably determine how the man died.

He said the four people who survived "are very lucky they were able to walk away uninjured."

From one house over, Caitlin Wiggins also heard a loud explosion in the home. The blast was so powerful, fire investigators say it rocked a bedroom off the foundation. Wiggins thought her second story efficiency was falling apart.

"I actually thought it was the foundation crumbling which scared me. I looked out the window and there was a big burst of fire and was like I don't know what to do," she told CBS4's Natalia Zea.

Wiggins says she called 911, and then grabbed her pets and ran.

"My reaction was to get them out. I immediately put my dog on a leash and got my cats and I was like where am I gonna go?"

Felicia DeJean was right next door to the fire and immediately scooped up her newborn son and made a break for it.

"I panicked. Our neighbor upstairs came down and helped me get out, because the smell started getting really strong so we left, we started walking," she told Zea.

It took firefighters only ten minutes to put out the flames but it was too late. A man inside a bedroom in the home was already dead.

Hours later the medical examiner's office removed his body through the same window that fire had engulfed.

The owner of the house next door told me she's complained to the City of Miami for months about suspicious activities happening in this building, including utility issues. She called this a loss of life that could have been prevented.

Zea and D'Oench tried to see if the owner of the home would comment. But she refused to answer their questions.

Wiggins meanwhile is just upset someone lost their life.

"I hoped no one was in there and I found out later someone was so it's really upsetting."

Homicide detectives, fire investigators, and the state fire marshal's office are all working the scene to determine how the fire started- and how exactly the man died.

The Red Cross is assisting the several other people who live here with a temporary place to stay.

Eugene Zeldin said he was not sure where he was going to live.


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