Man Killed, 2 Others Injured in Wilmington House Fire & Collapse

Neighbor who tried to save man: "I tried to grab his hands...but I couldn't get to him"

Despite the efforts of a neighbor and fire crews, a man was killed in a raging house fire and collapse in Wilmington. Two other people were also hurt.

The fire began around 10:30 p.m. Monday night at a single family home along the 100 block of Bird Street near Maryland Avenue in the city, Wilmington's fire chief tells

Witness Eric Mendez Lorenzo told he was driving down Interstate 95 when he saw the house burst into flames. He then pulled off the highway, had his friend call 911 and recorded video of the fire. "Oh my God," people exclaimed in the video as they asked whether anyone was inside.

A few minutes later police and fire crews arrived on the scene. Fire Chief Anthony Goode said three dozen firefighters doused the blaze with water, but the fire was so severe it caused part of the home to collapse. Goode said that hindered search and rescue efforts.

"We actually had to get more water onto the fire and control the collapse," Goode said. "The structures that are next to the building started to show some lean and some areas that looked like they may fall so we had to shore them up before we could get into the building."

Wilmington Police officers were able to get two women out of the home, but a man remained trapped inside.

Neighbor Fredrick Purnell heard a woman yelling "Save my friend" as he walked outside to check on the commotion. Purnell says he ran inside the home to try and save the man, but had to turn back because the flames were too intense.

"He just kept asking me repetitively for help and I tried to grab his hands, but the way the wall, the wall was in the way I couldn't get to him," Purnell said. "I kept trying to get him to crawl closer to me and then the flame got so hot I had I had to get out of the house."

Trapped by debris, the man was killed in the blaze, Goode confirmed. Family members identified the victim as Lamotte Scales. His body remained under the rubble for hours as firefighters used robotic cameras to try and locate his body. He was recovered in the late morning.

The two women who made it out suffered serious injuries from the fire. One woman, identified by family members as 49-year-old Francine Wallace, was rushed to Christiana Hospital. Wallace's friend, a 39-year-old woman, was taken to Crozer-Chester Medical Center in Chester, Pa., officials said. Their conditions have not yet been released. However, family members say Wallace suffered burns to over 80 percent of her body.

A firefighter was also taken to the hospital with a minor injury.

Neighbors tell they heard what sounded like an explosion when the fire began. Fire crews believe they mistook the sound of the collapse for an explosion. However, witnesses in the video sent to said a man could be seen pouring gasoline on the home before the fire began.

One neighbor claims the 39-year-old victim told him that a man poured gas in the home prior to the fire.

While officials have not yet released a cause, family members say they have their own theory based on what they've heard from neighbors.

"It's just speculation," said Martin Williams, Wallace's brother. But we think he[[Scales]] just went and doused the whole house in gasoline."

PHOTO: A view of the fire and collapse scene from SkyForce10 on Tuesday morning.

Nearby homes that were in danger of being damaged by the fire were inspected and deemed safe overnight. The Delaware Attorney General's Office is investigating the cause of the fire.

Lamotte Scales

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