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One person confirmed dead after Wauwatosa house fire

CREATED Aug. 18, 2011 - UPDATED: Aug. 18, 2011

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WAUWATOSA - Fire officials in Wauwatosa have confirmed a body was found inside a home following a big fire at the house early Thursday.

A fire marshal is now in charge of the investigation, and a city engineer has to make sure the structure is safe before continuing their investigation.

"This looks like a very tragic situation," said David Niles, who lives on the other corner from the home. 

"Flames, wild guess, are 30 to 40 feet in the air at times."

Wauwatosa Fire Chief Rob Ugaste said fire crews heard what they believed to be gunshots.

"(The noise) 'struck' them as a shot," said Ugaste, who explained that veteran firefighters know the differences between a gunshot and other types of sound.

According to the chief, a woman said to a firefighter on scene that a man was inside on the second floor who had weapons, ammunition and fireworks.  Those details were not initially confirmed.

Niles believes that a woman and her adult son have been living inside the house.

Homes in the immediate vicinity have been evacuated.  Power has been shut off in the area.

The situation began at about 9:00 a.m. Thursday.

"The sound of what was thought to be gunshots, I can't tell you how many, or possibly firecrackers going off was heard," said Wauwatosa Fire spokesman Lt. Gerald Witkowski.

"The fire department and police officers on the scene pulled back immediately."

He said investigators would not know for sure whether it was gunshots or firecrackers until the fire has been put out.

An alderman from Wauwatosa told TODAY'S TMJ4's Diane Pathieu that shots were initially fired at a fireman.

"They don't know if there's an individual in the upstairs or not. If there is, they don't know if he is alive or not," said Alderman Donald Birschel live on TODAY'S TMJ4.

Neighbors said a woman ran out of the house, but a man was still inside it as the fire burned earlier Thursday.  Authorities have not confirmed those details.

Tactical police officers are on the scene and have blocked off a number of streets in the area, including Cherry and Vliet Streets and Elmhurst Parkway.

Police told Niles to stay inside his home. 

"I was actually a few blocks from home when my daughter called and told me to come home urgently," said Niles.

"I had gone out the back way where it was a little safer. The front of our house (had) multiple policemen with guns, pistols and semi-automatics that were pointed toward the house."

The Milwaukee County Sheriff's Department and Brookfield, Elm Grove, West Allis and West Milwaukee Police have also come to assist at the scene.

Fire crews have been close enough to pour water on the home, and as of 11:00 a.m., they had much of the fire contained.

Officials believe the home is a total loss.