Brookhaven house fire

A fire at 2204 Brookhaven Drive, C, on May 8, 2020, claimed the life of Willie Ellis, 72, five days later.

Listen to this article

CHAMPAIGN — A 72-year-old man whose home burned earlier this month died from apparent smoke inhalation.

Champaign County Coroner Duane Northrup said Willie Ellis died at Carle Hospital in Urbana on May 13, five days after fire heavily damaged the home where he was living at 2204 Brookhaven Drive.

“The fire was accidental,” said Champaign fire department spokesman Randy Smith.

“It did start in the garage. We were unable to determine an exact ignition source but we narrowed it to a space heater or smoking materials. Those two different things were in the area but (investigators) could not figure out which started the fire.”

Firefighters were called to the southwest Champaign ranch house about 6:30 a.m. and found heavy flames and smoke rolling from the house. The fire appeared heaviest in the attached garage, which also housed a car. Flames also extended into the house, Smith said.

A neighbor saw the fire and called 911. The house had smoke detectors but firefighters don’t know if they were working. They were found on the floor amid the rubble during their investigation.

Smith said Mr. Ellis lived there with his wife and brother.

“They were all exiting together and he didn’t make it out,” said Smith. “They don’t know what happened.”

Firefighters found Mr. Ellis on the living room floor and got him out about 13 minutes after receiving the call. The other two were not injured.

Northrup said Mr. Ellis is believed to have died from complications of smoke inhalation, but he is awaiting the results of toxicology tests done at autopsy to confirm that.

Firefighters put damage to the house, which was not livable, at $65,000.



Mary Schenk is a reporter covering police, courts and breaking news at The News-Gazette. Her email is, and you can follow her on Twitter (@schenk).