Man Found Dead At Vacant Building Fire Identified

Leah Uko

OMAHA (KPTM) - A man firefighters found dead inside a burned-out building has been identified as 40-year-old John Lucas. He was a known resident at the homeless shelter Siena/Franci House in Omaha.

The shelter's executive director Mike Saklar said Lucas lived at the shelter from some time in 2011 up until Monday when he checked out.

OFD said they found Lucas' body on the second floor of the abandoned Mac's Tavern at 16th and Izard Streets.

This is the second fire in three months in Omaha involving an empty building and a homeless person. Some people who lived with Lucas said they wouldn't be surprised if it happens again.

Today's 60-degree weather is not unbearable for many people living on the street. But soon in Omaha it may drop to freezing.

"It's either get in that building or stay outside and die. And Nebraska weather will kill you," John Kelley who lives at Siena/Francis House said.

Before he moved into Siena/Francis House, this was how John Kelley lived.

He said because he is from Nebraska, he knows how to handle it's cold winters.

"I always make sure that I have thermal underwear and I have a good winter coat. And if I can get into a building I can survive."

At the shelter there are 340 beds. the executive director, Mike Saklar said currently nearly 500 people stay here.

"People probably get pretty tired of having to sleep on the floor in an overcrowded facility," Saklar said.

So they leave when it gets overcrowded. Saklar said he thinks this is what happened when John Lucas left the shelter for an empty building that eventually caught fire.

"He was a fine person. Never caused us any trouble whatsoever."

The problem is they leave to vacant buildings. And in the winter there is no heat. So they often start a fire to stay warm, but that fire spreads--burning down the building and anyone inside. This also put people inside surrounding buildings that are not vacant in danger.

"I don't feel it's a good idea to be sleeping in abandoned buildings. But I'm not out there on the streets trying to survive," Saklar said.

Saklar said he fears more incidents like this will happen.

And Kelley agrees.

"Maybe they don't have thermal underwear, maybe they have a crappy winter coat, unfortunately. And that's probably why they say 'I'm cold and I'm going to build a fire'."

But he said unfortunately it is inevitable.

Fire investigators are still working on a cause of the fire. Preliminary autopsy results show Lucas died from inhaling products of combustion.