House fire kills two people in southeast Kansas City

A man and woman died Sunday afternoon in a house fire that sent flames shooting high above a southeast Kansas City neighborhood.

Fire crews were called to the 9000 block of Booth Avenue at 12:30 p.m. and found the ranch-style stone-and-wood-frame house engulfed in flames. They discovered the man’s body in the lower level of the house and the woman’s body on the main level. Fire officials said the man was in his mid 40s and the woman was in her late 30s.

Deputy Fire Chief Sal Monteleone said that when crews arrived, a finished walkout basement and living space on the first floor were ablaze. They got the fire under control quickly and found the two victims, he said. The structure was a total loss.

Monteleone said homicide detectives and the Kansas City police bomb and arson unit were called to the scene “just to rule everything out.”

Kansas City Police Detective Steve Shaffer said later that the cause of the fire remained under investigation but that a preliminary review found that it did not appear to be an act of arson. He said the cause of the victims’ deaths had not yet been determined.

Yellow crime scene tape surrounded the charred shell of the home late Sunday afternoon as neighbors stood outside and wondered what had happened.

“I came driving down the street and it was all hazy,” said Gloria Fournier, who lives across the street. “Then I saw all the smoke pouring out of the house. It was about half an hour later when the flames just shot up.”

Her husband, Jerry, was watching the Kansas City Chiefs on TV when the fire started.

“And I thought she’d come home and lit a candle,” he said of his wife. “It smelled like when you light a kitchen match.”

The Fourniers said they had known the man since his family moved there when he was about 8 years old. They said he lived alone.

“He was very strong and athletic,” Jerry Fournier said. “He had a black belt in karate.”

Said Gloria: “He was built like an ox.”

The couple said the man had a colorful lifestyle.

“He had a lot of traffic coming and going,” Jerry Fournier said. “He had no visible means of support, no steady job. He was a master plumber, but he hadn’t done that in a long time.”

Fournier said the man recently borrowed his wheelbarrow.

“I was over there with him, and I saw bullet holes in his van,” he said. “I think he may have run around with some pretty rough guys.”

Gloria Fournier said she talked to the man a month ago.

“He gave me a big hug and a kiss,” she said. “We hadn’t talked in a long time, and he said, ‘I’m so glad to see you.’ Then he said, ‘Somebody’s after me, because I’ve found bullet holes through my front window.’

“And now to see what’s happened today, this kind of breaks my heart.”