Lotto winner dies in fire after heat disconnected

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Natural Gas. From Getty Images.

Kansas City, MO — A man who won a lottery prize worth tens of thousands of dollars over a decade ago died Wednesday in a fire, trying to keep warm after his heat was turned off.

Gerald Futrell, 54, won $100,000 in a Missouri Lottery Powerball drawing 13 years ago. It’s unknown what happened to the money, but Wednesday he was forced to find another means of staying warm. Fire officials say the means he resorted to is dangerously happening all over the metro.

Neighbors are in shock to hear the friendly man next door won’t be coming home. They’re not sure how long the fire had been burning, but say a neighbor’s barking dogs alerted them to call for help.

The fire broke out at a home on South Benton Avenue and East Gregory Boulevard about 5:35 p.m. and heavy smoke was seen coming from it.

Neighbors called 911 after seeing all the smoke. They were worried for the man still inside as his wife tried to get to him.

“Then his wife pulled up and she was trying to give him a call. He wouldn’t answer,” neighbor Ed Williams said.

“She said the door was hot, she tried to open it but she hurried up and backed away. All I saw was she was crying,” neighbor Maliyah Harris said.

Chopper5 flew over the scene and showed crews giving CPR to a man who was then rushed to an awaiting ambulance.

Kansas City Fire Department Battalion Chief James Garrett said crews arrived within three minutes of the fire call. When entering the house to begin putting out the fire, they found the man lying on the floor in a hallway near the bedroom.

Despite CPR, the man couldn’t be revived and died.

“I was just hoping for the best, but as much smoke was coming from the house and as long as the house was on fire as smoke was coming from it, I looked at it like it was a long shot,” Williams said.

Neighbors say the man was always friendly to them.

“He always had a great smile and always tried to cheer somebody up, no matter what we were doing,” Nelson Hill said. “He was a great guy, you know. He’d help anybody. He was a family man and he put the foundation first, you know. Anytime I’d go to him for help, he’d always help me.”

The cause of the fire is under investigation, and so far officials aren’t ruling anything out.

“People do unconventional things to stay warm. My understanding was there was no gas in the house as well. So that may have added to what we may find in the house,” Garrett said.

The gas had been turned off at the home since last April. Wednesday’s sad outcome is just the latest example of the risk of fire when people have to find some other way to heat their home.

On Jan. 12 a fire on West 59th Street in Shawnee started in the fireplace. Luckily no one was hurt. On Jan. 25 on North Second Street in Kansas City, KS, a fire where a woman died is still under investigation. Her gas service had been cut off a short time before the blaze.

In each of the three cases people were using alternative means to stay warm. In Futrell’s case, several space heaters. Fire officials say they can be a disaster waiting to happen.

“If you’re inattentive to what the heat source is by or what’s happening with the heat source, you can have situations like this,” Garrett said.

It’s not just space heaters being used by people when there’s no traditional source of heat to warm a home.

“We’ve seen them start by people firing up their ovens and leaving the oven doors open. And you would not believe some of the other things we’ve found. As far as vacant houses, they’ll burn barrels, they’ll burn trash,” Garrett said.

Garrett said the home on South Benton Avenue didn’t have any working smoke detectors. They’re using the horrible tragedy as a reminder that the fire department gives them out for free. If you are disabled, they’ll even come out to your home to install them.

Call 816-784-9100 to ask about getting a smoke detector for your home.

Click here to find out more about Missouri’s cold weather rule, designed to protest customers, under certain conditions, from being disconnected in the winter months.

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