Residents around 15th and Berry in Omaha heard at least four explosions coming from a nearby historic home around 5 a.m. Wednesday. While the house is a total loss, everyone got out safely.
Antwoine Johnson, one of five residents of the home, told Channel 6 News that he woke up, went to the kitchen and saw it engulfed in flames. He was able to help the family get out safely.
Firefighters don't know the cause of the fire, but say oxygen tanks stored on the porch was the reason for the explosions. An elderly resident used oxygen to help with his emphysema.
“I'm just thankful that everybody is safe, that my grandpa is okay ‘cause I believe my grandpa was at the heart of the fire when it started,” said Laceisha Johnson. “I'm just glad grandpa, my baby and brother are okay."
The Johnsons say the home had been in the family for generations. Now there's nothing left except for memories.
Those who live around here know the Johnson family and the relatives who have lived in the home for more than 100 years, the Bryants, the Fishers, Emma Early. The home has meant so much to the community the city renamed the street to honor the family that spent so many years in this neighborhood and home.
Mark Lewis documented what could be the end of a family tradition. "Very, very sentimental, lot of God and love in it, eight of us was raised in the house, then my sister Bernice, she lived in the house, she raised eight of her kids in the house,” said Alicesteen Lewis.
Mark showed his mom the damage done by the fire. Other family members had explained to her that her brother, who was living in the house with other family members, might have started the blaze.
“He has oxygen tanks on the front porch and I guess that's what was blowing up, but he got a hold of a cigarette lighter. Bernard, he has dementia and he’s on oxygen.”
This was not the first time fire has caused sadness here. Mrs. Lewis lost her father when she was 8 years old, when fire broke out in the house. “He got burned New Year’s Eve and died New Year’s Day at St. Joseph Hospital. I don't know what year it was.”
Joe Clark also grew up in the house and heard stories about that first fire in the old house. When Mrs. Lewis lost her father, Clark lost his grandfather. “What’s really ironic about it is my grandfather passed away in that house at the age of 36 years old, there was another fire there he thought one of his children was in the house he went back in and so he was overcome with smoke.”
The family is overcome with emotion. This house has been a family gathering point and a place to grow up for decades. Now it’s gone, but it will be remembered in pictures and by stories told by family members.
“That house been there for decades, back to the late 1800s, early 1900s," said Clark. "My grandmother was born there.”
The Red Cross is providing the family assistance. The YWCA has set up a fund to help the family. If you would like to help you may give to the Johnson Family Benefit at any Wells Fargo Bank.