“You never expect something like this:” Man dies in Henrico house fire

Henrico County Fire is investigating a deadly fire that happened on Tuesday morning.
Published: Nov. 21, 2023 at 11:38 AM EST|Updated: Nov. 21, 2023 at 8:38 PM EST
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HENRICO, Va. (WWBT) - Henrico County Fire is investigating a deadly fire on Tuesday morning on Aeronca Avenue in the county’s west end.

Gene Watts, 57, died at his front door while trying to escape the fire in his home, his brother told NBC12.

The victim’s brother, Pastor Scott Watts of First Free Will Baptist Church, told NBC12 that Gene had been bedridden for some time but had recently worked on improving his health and was excited to be able to take a few steps again.

Watts said Gene’s daughter, who is normally home with him, was out of the house for an appointment at the time of the fire and that her cat also died.

Henrico County Fire Marshal Henry Rosenbaum said neighbors noticed smoke coming from the house around 10:42 a.m. and called 911.

Henrico Fire crews arrived minutes later and were able to contain the fire shortly after that.

They said it started in a front room, and the flames never came outside the house.

“The house did have a smoke detector, and that’s a very positive thing because there’s many fires that we go to that do not have working smoke alarms,” Rosenbaum said.

Neighbors said Watts and his daughter, in her early 20s, had lived in the house together for more than two decades.

“They were really good people,” neighbor Trinity Barnett said. ”I’m 21, so I’ve known them my whole life. His daughter and I used to talk when we were younger.”

Barnett said she was the one to contact Watt’s daughter to let her know what happened.

“You never expect something like this,” Barnett said. “I was glad I at least could be here to help them the way that I could, but I wish there was more I could have done.”

“It’s just sad,” Rosenbaum said. “It’s two days before Thanksgiving. Anytime somebody suffers a fire loss, and then more importantly a loss of a loved one, you know, during the fire, it’s very sad for us. It touches us personally, as well.”

Fire investigators are still working to determine the cause of the fire.