New London — Two people died Friday night after a fire engulfed their two-story home at 36 Blinman St.
Detectives were on scene investigating, and officials said at least one of the deaths is being investigated as a homicide. The fire may have been set in an attempt to conceal a crime, officials said.
Firefighters found the body of a woman in the front room of the home, and a man was found badly injured in the back room, officials at the scene said. The man was pulled from the home and paramedics attempted CPR, but officials said efforts to revive him were unsuccessful. Neighbors said their first names were Noel and Sherri.
Five people lived in the home, neighbors said. Two of the five were unaccounted for Friday evening, officials said.
The state police Major Crime Squad was on scene late Friday night, as well as the New London police Traffic Services DUI Command Center. Two city fire inspectors were also on the scene and police and fire crews expected to remain there overnight.
The fire was reported at about 8:15 p.m. Firefighters were still working on the house at about 10:10 p.m. Smoke shrouded much of the neighborhood and the adjacent downtown area along Bank Street. A large crowd gathered to watch, many crying and watching in horror as flames poured out of the home.
Firefighters had the fire under control in about 30 minutes but continued to hose down hot spots and flare-ups. Glass was broken out of windows and firefighters used saws to ventilate the roof of the house. Heavy black smoke continued to billow from the house for more than an hour.
Homes on either side were not damaged by the blaze.
Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio, police Chief Margaret Ackley, Fire Chief Ron Samul and Deputy Fire Chief Henry Kydd were all on scene, as were several detectives. Some detectives interviewed neighbors.
Finizio said the fire remains under investigation.
Blinman Street was closed off to traffic and crowded with emergency vehicles.
David Butler, whose girlfriend lives in a house across the street from 36 Blinman, said they were watching a movie when they heard sirens and went outside to see the entire front of the house on fire.
At least five people and several pets lived in the home, neighbors said. One of the residents, who identified himself only as Jerry, arrived home from work to find fire crews working on the house. His 14-year-old dog, Cowboy, walked out of the house and appeared to be OK and Jerry said the dog may have been on the back porch. The man was being assisted by the Red Cross.
A neighbor who identified himself only as Bob said he called 911 after a passing bicyclist told him the house three doors down was on fire.
Candace Devendittis, who owns Dev’s on Bank restaurant, the rear of which is just three doors away from the house, said Noel and Sherri were fixtures in the neighborhood. Both were older, she said, but frequently walked Cowboy, who was sometimes known to occupy a barstool at the nearby Bank Street Cafe.
Devendittis said Noel was a carpenter and artist, but had had health issues lately.
“This is unbelievable,” she said. “These were people who took a lot of pride in their neighborhood.”
Neighbors said it was Noel who was pulled out of the burning house. Paramedics performed 20 minutes of CPR before taking him to the hospital in an ambulance. Finizio said he was pronounced dead at Lawrence & Memorial Hospital.
The fire consumed the entire house except for a small portico where an American flag hung. The two-story building, built in 1870, was owned by BAC Home Loans Servicing of Plano, Texas. It was one of several bought and sold in 2009 in a massive mortgage fraud scheme. Fifteen different people throughout Connecticut were indicted in 2010 in the multimillion-dollar scam.
Several local fire departments provided backup at the New London stations.