Neighbors: Homeless man died in Petersburg house fire

Neighbors: Homeless man died in Petersburg house fire
A fire destroyed a house in Petersburg on Tuesday morning.

PETERSBURG, VA (WWBT) - One person is dead after a fire on Tuesday morning heavily damaged a home in Petersburg. Investigators have not officially identified the person in the home, but neighbors say it was vacant and believe the victim may be a homeless man.

Petersburg firefighters found the body following an intense house fire on the 400 block of Byrne Street. It broke out around 6:30 a.m. Tuesday.

As flames consume the duplex, neighbors watched helplessly. A home next door also caught fire. Neighbors say both are vacant.

"I looked out the window, actually you could feel the heat," said Jamel Ward, who lives across the street and took video of the flames.  "The heat was intense."

Flames were pouring out of the house when firefighters got there.

"The cinders were coming over to our house," said Allen Sidney, who lives next door. "They actually had to take the hose and put it to our roof."

Firefighters struggled to get inside the house while it was still on fire.

"Because there was so much fire, it was very difficult," said Petersburg Fire Chief Tommy Barrett. "It was impossible to search the building."

Bars on the windows also kept firefighters back and the siding was flammable. It wasn't until the fire was under control an hour-and-a-half later that firefighters found a body in a bedroom.

"I had an idea there was somebody in there, because two weeks ago, I saw someone coming out of that house," said Sidney.

Neighbors tell NBC12 they believe the victim may be a homeless man.

"There are a lot of homeless people around here, and they go to these abandoned houses and they stay in them," said Sidney.

In fact, this is one of several vacant homes on this street. Neighbors say it's a safety concern.

"It's just sad, no crime was committed," said Ward. "He was just trying to live and get by the best way he could. God bless the man who was in there."

Firefighters say the damage is so extensive, it's  going to be quite some time to determine what caused the fire.

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