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Cause of fire that killed two in south Wichita remains unclear

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, Dec. 24, 2012, at 12:22 p.m.
  • Updated Monday, Dec. 24, 2012, at 2:33 p.m.

Investigators have yet to determine what caused the house fire that killed two men in south Wichita on Friday morning.

“There’s nothing suspicious at this point” of the investigation, Wichita fire Capt. Stuart Bevis said.

At least one of the two men who lived at 2512 S. Twin Oaks smoked, Bevis said, and multiple space heaters were being used at the old house near Pawnee and Hillside. Though Bevis said fire officials are awaiting an autopsy to confirm the identities of the victims, a police report named them as John Hawkinson, 63, and Joshua Zackula, 35.

Hawkinson was found in the living room, where the fire started, and Zackula was found in a back bedroom, Bevis said. The fire was contained primarily to the living room, he said.

The initial call to 911 came from inside the house from a man who mentioned “trying to get the cats” in the house, Bevis said. The older man had mobility issues because of his hip, and firefighters found crutches inside the house.

“We were told by neighbors ... he had a hard time getting around,” Bevis said.

The deaths doubled the number of fire fatalities in Wichita this year, Bevis said. There were eight fire deaths in the city in 2011.

Zackula was pronounced dead at the scene, while Hawkinson was transported to Via Christi Hospital on St. Francis, where he died at 11:25 a.m. – nearly two hours after the fire was reported.

The state Fire Marshal’s Office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are assisting with the investigation, Bevis said. The homicide unit also assisted in collecting evidence at the scene.

Damage was set at $30,000 to the house and its contents, Bevis said.

One of the main causes of fires this time of year is cooking, he said. If you’re cooking, focus on the cooking.

“Don’t be cooking and decorating or cooking and chasing kids,” Bevis said.

People should only use space heaters sparingly and when they are in the same room as the devices, he said.

“I don’t even like space heaters going when people are asleep,” he said.

A number of recent house fires have occurred because space heaters were used in houses with old wiring that couldn’t handle the demand placed on them, Bevis said.

Reach Stan Finger at 316-268-6437 or sfinger@wichitaeagle.com.

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