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Japanese authorities investigate the charred remains of a two-story unit at the Bel Air Plaza housing complex in Hamura, which borders Yokota Air Base. A U.S. civilian who worked for the 374th Services Division was killed in the fire, which broke out early Saturday.
Japanese authorities investigate the charred remains of a two-story unit at the Bel Air Plaza housing complex in Hamura, which borders Yokota Air Base. A U.S. civilian who worked for the 374th Services Division was killed in the fire, which broke out early Saturday. (Vince Little / S&S)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — A U.S. civilian who worked for the 374th Services Division was killed early Saturday in a fire at his off-base home in nearby Hamura.

Camille LaRoche, 46, was pronounced dead at a hospital in Ome at 1:40 a.m., a Fussa police spokesman said. He was alone in the house and no one else was hurt in the blaze, which started at about 12:15 a.m.

Known better to friends and co-workers as “J.B.,” LaRoche was the Yokota Enlisted Club’s bingo manager. He had lived at Bel Air Plaza for the past decade.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family at this tragic moment,” Col. Jeff Newell, the 374th Airlift Wing commander, said in a news release.

LaRoche was found upstairs in the bedroom of his two-story house. Police discovered a kerosene fan heater and fuel tank in another bedroom.

Japanese authorities are investigating the cause of the fire.

Jay Reynolds, a longtime friend and neighbor, said he heard two large explosions while watching television in his living room at about 12:30 a.m. Saturday.

“Enough to shake the house and rattle the windows,” he said of the blasts. “They were about 10 seconds apart. I thought it was a car crash.”

After checking the road next to Bel Air Plaza’s entrance, Reynolds came back inside. But then he noticed an “orange glow” out his back window, he said. He saw the flames outside and told his wife to call the fire department.

“They got here pretty quick, but by that time, it was well engulfed,” he added. “The whole neighborhood was smoked up. You couldn’t even walk through here.”

A female neighbor who asked not to be identified said she was awakened by her husband after Japanese emergency responders announced their housing complex’s street address over a loudspeaker.

“A lot of smoke was coming out,” she said, adding the blaze was so bright it “looked like sunshine.”

LaRoche and his Japanese wife had separated on Christmas Day, according to Reynolds. He said she and their two children had gone to stay with her mother.

“We knew each other well,” Reynolds said, adding he last saw LaRoche on Thursday. “It’s a surreal feeling. I haven’t slept much. I went to sleep for about an hour, woke up and came back out here, hoping it was just a bad dream.

“But it’s my reality. It’s still kind of shocking.”

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