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Shaker Heights homeowner told by city to fix or demolish home where woman died in fire

Space heater too close to things that can burn caused fire
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Posted at 5:43 PM, Jan 10, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-10 21:13:23-05

SHAKER HEIGHTS, Ohio — The house in Shaker Heights where a 65-year-old woman was killed in a fire just before Christmas must be repaired or demolished. The city has declared the house a public nuisance.

The fire was caused by a space heater in a children’s bedroom that was too close to things that could easily burn.

RELATED: Space heater located too close to flammable materials caused deadly fire in Shaker Heights, says fire chief

The attorney for the landlord who also owns the house confirmed to News 5 Investigators the furnace on the first floor was broken.

One man who lived there says he did ask for it to be fixed.

A city notice shows the house now has fire code violations in addition to outstanding housing code violations from a 2019 inspection.

The landlord has about two more weeks to get things done.

The house on Strathavon Road is a charred shell of what was home to people on each of the three floors.

"It's horrible because we went two months — my family, me and, my children — went two months without heat in that house,” Tyshawn Vaughn said.

Vaughn saved his 3-year-old son and daughter the day the house burned.

“She wakes up crying. She wakes up crying and talks about the fire a lot,” Vaughn said.

The Shaker Heights Fire Chief shared with News 5 new pictures of what the children’s bedroom looked like after the December 21 fire and remnants of a space heater.

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Aftermath of the deadly fire in Shaker Heights.

Vaughn lived in the first-floor apartment with his four children and fiancée.

According to a fire investigation report, the fire started in a back bedroom between a toddler bed and bunk beds. The man who lived there told investigators space heaters were their only heat source since the furnace for the downstairs had not worked for two months and their landlord gave them space heaters.

"We had low and cold weather and I had to have that space heater in my kids' room because I can't have them sleeping in that environment with no heat at all, so it was a situation where I did what I had to do,” Vaughn said.

The landlord’s attorney says the first-floor tenant called about the broken furnace in November and his client sent someone out to take a look, but didn’t have it fixed after learning the tenant was to move on the first of December.

But that attorney says the tenant then said he wasn’t leaving, so the landlord sent someone out the Monday before the fire and gave them space heaters to stay warm.

"The guy said he would fix it the same day while we were in the apartment, it didn't need to be vacated to be fixed,” Vaughn said.

Vaughn says he and his family had threatened to leave because things weren’t being fixed, but planned to stay through March.

"Somebody did lose a life and my children and I almost lost a life and he needs to understand that,” Vaughn said.

Katherine West died in the fire. Her daughter declined to comment through her attorney. West Lived on the third floor where, according to the fire report, the only working smoke detector existed.

"We heard her last words, she said, 'It's smoky and I can't get out,'" Vaughn said.

News 5 Investigators went to the house Tuesday; a Shaker Heights Public Nuisance Notice now hangs from the front door.

Code violations from a 2019 inspection included a need for photoelectric smoke detectors, which use a light beam to detect smoke from smoldering fires, and the removal of kitchen appliances from the third floor, along with the discontinuation of the use of extension cords.

The city says there’s no record of the owner responding to its notices.

The owner must now submit plans to the city to either fix what the fire destroyed and correct all outstanding code violations or demolish the house.

If he doesn’t, the city will tear it down and send him the bill estimated at $15,000.

“You can't live life like this — that building wasn't up to code," Vaughn said.

The fire chief said they don’t think anything was wrong with the space heater itself. The fire was accidental.

The landlord’s attorney says his client was supposed to hear from his insurance company Tuesday about whether restoration is doable or if demolition will be the best option.

He says his client inherited the property from his father and had been fixing some things and doesn’t recall the city notices.

Shaker Heights Police tell News 5 an investigation is ongoing. The landlord’s attorney said they were not aware of a police investigation but got a call today asking for a voluntary statement.

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