An early morning fire Jan. 5 at a Hilliard apartment complex claimed the life of one man.
Officials investigating the fire had not yet identified the victim as of 11 a.m. Jan. 5, but tenants at the Linda Road apartment building said a middle-age man lived at the burned apartment.
Investigators from the state fire marshal’s office, Norwich Township Fire Department and the Hilliard Division of Police continued to sort through the six-unit structure at 3883 Linda Road.
Two of the six units were unoccupied, and tenants at the other three occupied apartments were either not home when the fire occurred or safely escaped.
Norwich Township and Columbus firefighters arrived at 6:58 a.m. to the blaze, which was reported at 6:53 a.m.
“It was fully involved when we arrived,” Norwich Battalion Chief Jeff Warren said.
Warren said witnesses described an explosion when the fire occurred.
“The whole room shook,” said Elizabeth Jennings, 37, who resided on a second-floor apartment above where the ground-level fire started.
Living with Jennings are her daughters, Akayla, 17, a junior at Hilliard Darby High School, and Briseis, 5. Two cats also safely escaped.
Volunteers from the American Red Cross provided the family with blankets as Elizabeth contemplated how the family would move its belongings up the ice-covered steps of an adjacent apartment, where the family will relocate.
The Jenningses lost no property, but “it stinks to high heaven,” Jennings said of the family’s current apartment where they had lived for five years.
Jennings’ daughter, Akayla Hawley, who shared a room with her younger sister, already had awakened once before the fire started, but Briseis was asleep.
“The alarm had went off once, but I wasn’t really awake until I felt the jolt,” she said.
Jennings quickly got the children out of the house and said the flames from the downstairs apartment were reaching the second-floor apartment next to hers.
“It was scary as we went downstairs outside and saw the fire,” Akayla said.
Jennings described the man killed in the fire as reclusive. She recalled him having visitors only twice in the five years she had lived there. She never saw him drive a car.
“He walked everywhere he went,” said Jennings, who described the man as middle-aged, about in his 40s and apparently of Indian descent.
Jennings said she feared for her cats but found both were safe when she was permitted to return to her apartment.
“What a way to start the new year,” she said. “It’s going to be a rough ride.”
Even still, she said, she feels fortunate to escape safely with her family and their belongings.
The fatal fire was the first in Hilliard since a Labor Day fire Sept. 6, 2010, claimed the life of three people at a Bigelow Drive residence.
Check back with ThisWeekNEWS.com and read the Jan. 10 edition of ThisWeek Hilliard Northwest News for updates.