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House fire central city James Harris, left, and his cousin, Addie Mae Williams stand near the home of his father, James Harris, as they watch a city crew demolish a house that caught fire at 1058 Fernwood Ave.
James Harris, left, and his cousin, Addie Mae Williams stand near the home of his father, James Harris, as they watch a city crew demolish a house that caught fire at 1058 Fernwood Ave.
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Published: Thursday, 1/10/2013

Central Toledo house previously riddled with bullets destroyed by fire

BY TAYLOR DUNGJEN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

One of three houses destroyed Wednesday by a massive early morning fire had been shot into numerous times Monday night.

For James Harris, 78, who has lived in his Fernwood Avenue home for more than 50 years, it's enough.

Mr. Harris was at home sleeping when the fire started. The only thing that most likely kept his home — filled with photographs and decades of memories from raising seven children as a single father — from being a casualty of the blaze is an empty lot between his property and those structures that burned.

“I woke up and thought, 'I feel hot,' ” Mr. Harris said. He soon realized his home was filling with smoke and that all of the windows facing the fire had blown out from the heat.

The fire was reported at 5:15 a.m., first at 1056 Fernwood, according to a fire dispatcher. The fire spread next door to 1058 Fernwood, the same home that was shot at least six times Monday night, authorities said.

Initial reports state that 1056 Fernwood burned to the ground before firefighters could contain it; 1058 was so badly damaged that it was razed.

What remains of the three homes that were destroyed by fire on Fernwood Avenue. What remains of the three homes that were destroyed by fire on Fernwood Avenue.
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Another vacant home was badly damaged, and the siding on the right side of Mr. Harris' home melted, reports indicate. Mr. Harris' son, James Anthony Harris, 56, said the family hopes they will soon be able to move the elder Mr. Harris out of the inner city and into a town home or condominium.

It was not clear Wednesday if the fire was related to the shooting, but Toledo police Sgt. Joe Heffernan said detectives were looking into it.

Toledo Fire Department spokesman Lt. Matt Hertzfeld said the cause of the blaze has not been determined, and is under investigation by an arson investigator. He listed the loss at $50,000 for all four structures, including the Harris home.

Jan Brooks, a man who has been linked by police to the Smith Park Mafia, an inner-city gang also known as the Lil Heads, lived at 1058 Fernwood, according to police records.

Several of those gang members, including Mr. Brooks, 22, were charged with participating in a criminal gang in August, although those charges were dismissed in September, according to Toledo Municipal Court records. Police have said charges would likely be refiled and that authorities dismissed the charges to compile more evidence.

Mr. Brooks reportedly told police he was at the back of the house when he heard shots being fired just after 10 p.m. Monday. No injuries were reported.

In March, another home in the 1000 block of Fernwood, which is across the street from Martin Luther King, Jr., Academy for Boys, burned, the result of an arson, according to fire. It has since been torn down.

The home, 1074 Fernwood, was a known hangout for the Lil Heads.

The so-called leader of the gang, Justin Smith, 25, was shot and killed outside that home in October, 2011, during a vigil for a friend who was shot and killed exactly one year earlier.

Contact Taylor Dungjen at:tdungjen@theblade.comor 419-724-6054, or onTwitter @taylordungjen.



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