Feb. 17--He lived in the South Linden house for more than 40 years and was alone since losing his wife in October.
When Columbus firefighters responded to 1144 E. 20th Ave. for a fire at 6:20 p.m. yesterday, they had trouble getting in because of the many items piled inside.
They found the home's occupant dead, sitting in a chair in the front room, said Battalion Chief Doug Smith of the Columbus Division of Fire. Relatives identified him as James Shields Jr., 84.
A neighbor, who would not give her name, said she called 911 after noticing smoke pouring from the house. She said her daughter thought of trying to get Shields out, but the smoke was too thick.
Firefighters put a ladder up to the second floor but could travel only about 15 feet before they were blocked by the clutter inside. They eventually navigated a narrow path through the stored junk to find Shields, Smith said.
"It was apparent that he was hoarding a lot of stuff," he said.
Investigators didn't know last night what started the fire.
Brothers Kerwince and Kevin Jones are Shields' nephews. They were watching a report on the fire on WBNS-TV (Channel 10) and immediately recognized their uncle's house.
Kevin Jones said when he saw the flames shooting out of an upstairs window he thought: "I hope he's not up there on the second floor."
Shields, a fixture in the South Linden neighborhood, "liked to tinker and fix things," Kerwince Jones said. "He liked to help people out."
Shields was also known for his ability as an embalmer and had recently worked for the Wayne T. Lee Funeral Home on the Near East Side, Kevin Jones said.
Shields performed the embalming duties for his wife, Betty, when she died last October. He is survived by a son.
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