Elderly man killed in house fire

Published: Apr. 21, 2021 at 5:46 PM EDT
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UPDATE 4/21/21 @ 9:30 p.m.

GALLIPOLIS, Ohio (WSAZ) - A man who helped families in the difficult days after the death of their loved ones is now being mourned himself.

The home of 84-year-old Cleeland Willis sits across Portsmouth Road from the funeral home he founded in Gallipolis in 1974.

Willis’s next-door neighbor Mike Neal noticed smoke coming from Willis’s house around noon.

“I got my jacket on and ran over that way,” Neal said.

Neal says he called Willis’s son, who also works at the funeral home across the street.

He says the son attempted a rescue, but it was too late.

“He kicked the door in, and smoke was just rolling out of the house, thick black smoke,” Neal said. “The smoke was so thick there was no way. He would’ve probably been overcome with smoke. I was sick at my stomach at that point.”

Jim Johnson, the assistant chief with the Gallipolis Fire Department, knew the victim personally.

“You have to do what you can to get the job done and what you came to do,” Johnson said. “Everyone knew him in the community. He was well-liked.

“I’m really heartbroken for losing a good neighbor and also for the family, because they’re a terrific family,” Neal said.

The family says Willis, an Air Force veteran, had lived alone since the death of his wife in 2016.

Willis’s son says he’ll be dearly missed, and the family will lean on their faith in God and community support to help them through this painful loss.

Johnson says it took crews about two and a half hours to get the fire put out.

The Fire Marshal is investigating the cause.


GALLIPOLIS, Ohio (WSAZ) - An elderly man died Wednesday after his house in Gallipolis caught fire.

Jim Johnson, the Assistant Chief with the Gallipolis Fire Department, says they got a call a little after noon when an automatic fire alarm went off in the house on Portsmouth Road.

Johnson says flames were spreading downstairs when crews arrived.

Neighbors say the victim’s wife had passed away and he had been living alone for several years. They described him as a well liked and respected figure of the community.

The victim’s name has not been released.

Johnson tells renovations to the home made the fire fight more difficult. He says the home had been added onto several times, creating nooks and crannies for the fire to spread.

According to Johnson, it took crews from Gallipolis and Point Pleasant about two and a half hours to get the fire out.

The Fire Marshal is investigating the cause.

Keep checking on the WSAZ app for the latest information.

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