FWFD investigate fire, neighbors identify victim

Firefighters were called to a home in the 6900 block of Penrose Drive on report of a house fire than began in the basement on Monday, December 5.

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) An investigation is underway after a body was found badly burned inside a home on the city’s northeast side Monday afternoon.

Joseph I. Thomas, 65, died of smoke inhalation and thermal burns inside a home at 6902 Penrose Drive around 2:45 p.m. Monday. The Allen County Coroner’s Office ruled his death an accident.

The Fort Wayne Fire Department was called to Thomas’s home on report of the fire and according to a fire department report, crews arrived to find heavy smoke rising from the windows and doors.

The neighbor next door, Sally Nolt, said Joe and Peggy Thomas lived in the home and have been neighbors for nearly 30 years.

Nolt had planned to spend a quiet afternoon getting ready for the holidays. When she went outside she discovered the street was full of lights and the sounds of sirens.

“This afternoon I took my Christmas decorations out on the porch and I was going to put them out but then I saw the fire trucks,” said Nolt. “I called my husband and said Joe’s house is on fire. They were breaking the windows and everything else and I was worried about Joe because his car was in the driveway.”

Nolt said Joe Thomas is a retired father of two and spends much of his time at the home.

“I wasn’t aware of what was going on until we heard on the 5 o’clock news that there was one person dead,” said Nolt. “We knew it was Joe.”

Authorities have not confirmed the person’s identity; only that someone was found in a crawlspace. Crews had a difficult time searching the home because of large holes in the floor. They said the fire started in the crawlspace and each room had to be searched by crews entering a window and exiting the same window due to the condition of the floor. Firefighters said they believe the person was found in the crawlspace because they fell through the floor.

“The initial searches did come back empty but upon further investigation and further searching, there was a deceased person found in the crawl space amid some debris,” said Paul Veldman, FWFD Assistant Chief.

“I mean it really hit me when I was outside,” said Nolt. “I realized that if Joe was home that something was wrong because I didn’t see him come outside and I didn’t see him bring anybody out.”

Nolt said with the holidays just around the corner, dealing with the loss is especially difficult.

“It’s a bad time,” she said. “It’s going to be a bad time.”

It’s not clear how the victim died. A report said from FWFD said investigators are working to determine the cause of the fire and the person’s cause of death.