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Published: Sunday, 2/13/2005

Ottawa County man dies when blaze hits home


OAK HARBOR, Ohio - A man disabled by a stroke several years ago died yesterday in a fire at his home on State Rt. 163, just west of here, authorities said.

It was the third fatal fire in the area in the last three days.

Dennis Nowak, 66, of 14245 West State Rt. 163, near Lickert Harder Road in Ottawa County, was pronounced dead on the scene, Rocky Ridge Fire Chief Raymond Brown said.

Mr. Nowak's dog, a Labrador-German shepherd mix, was found dead next to him, Chief Brown said.

"He had smoke alarms, and they were working," the chief said.

"This is an isolated case where the fellow was [disabled] and couldn't get out."

The fire was discovered about 3:45 p.m. by Lyle Peters, Mr. Nowak's first cousin, who is in his 70s. Mr. Peters stopped by the two-story wood-frame house to check on Mr. Nowak, knocked on the door, got no answer, tried to enter, but was deterred by heavy smoke, Ottawa County Sheriff Robert Bratton said.

He got in his car and drove to his house, which is less than a mile away, and had his wife dial 911. The call came in at 3:48 p.m., Sheriff Bratton said.

That's when Oak Harbor police Officer Jim Seaman heard the report of the fire.

He arrived at the house before firefighters, entered the structure through the front door, and saw Mr. Nowak lying next to a recliner about five feet from the door, Sheriff Bratton said.

"When I got there, the door was already open. I went in and found the gentleman on the floor unconscious. And I just pulled him out on the front porch."

Officer Seaman and Rocky Ridge police Chief Bud Chasteen administered CPR until a rescue squad crew took over. They eventually were assisted by an air ambulance crew, the sheriff's office said.

Despite their efforts, attempts to resuscitate Mr. Nowak failed.

Rocky Ridge fire crews arrived minutes later and extinguished the blaze within 10 minutes.

"When we first got there, the smoke was real heavy," Chief Brown said. "But the fire was confined to the southeast corner of the first-floor livingroom, where it started from an electric short either in the television set or in the VCR."

Officer Seaman, who has been with the Oak Harbor Police Department for over four years, said, "I really didn't feel anything at the time. The training just took over. The adrenaline was going, and I was just trying to get my job done. It's only afterward that you have the sorrow for losing someone."

Mr. Nowak was a retired second-generation barber, who cut hair in the 1970s and 1980s at Nowak's Barber Shop in Elmore, the chief said.

An avid NASCAR fan, Mr. Nowak enjoyed the stock car races and collected NASCAR model cars, the chief said.

A woman who answered the telephone at Mr. Peters' home last night said that he was too distraught to discuss his cousin and the fire.

In the cases of the two earlier fatal house fires - both in Toledo and both on Thursday, authorities said the absence of working smoke detectors contributed to those deaths.

Chanz Williams, 4, died Thursday night in a house fire at 753 Forsythe St. in East Toledo, less than 14 hours after an elderly man died in a house fire in the central city.

Chanz's parents, Robert and Beth Williams, and their 5-year-old daughter, Lauren, escaped. Mrs. Williams and her daughter were treated at St. Charles Mercy Hospital.

A sheet placed over a light was believed to have started the fire.

Earlier in the day, a man identified as Jack Wilbert, who was in his late 80s, died in a house fire at 747 Nebraska Ave. caused by flammable items that were too close to an electric space heater.

Contact Mike Sigov at: sigov@theblade.com or 419-724-6050.

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