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Fire officials release full report on New London fire connected to death of former Zappos CEO

New London

NEW LONDON, Conn. (WTNH) — The fire investigation into the New London fire that killed former Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh is now complete.

On Nov. 18, 2020, Hsieh was found critically injured in a fire in a shed at the back of his home on Pequot Ave. Two days before, firefighters were called to two fires at the same address.

The office of the state medical examiner said Hsieh died of smoke inhalation and his death was ruled an accident.

New London’s Fire Marshal’s Office released the report Tuesday morning, saying that the investigation team has developed four hypotheses as to what caused the fire and how human factors could have also contributed to Hsieh’s death.

Credit: New London PD

According to the report, the first hypothesis is that “the portable propane heater came into direct contact or into proximity of the heating elements with the nearby combustibles resulting in a fire.”

Another hypothesis is that a “carelessly discarded smoking material (either cigarettes or marijuana) is the cause of the fire.”

Credit: New London PD

The report says that the third hypothesis is that “the misuse of candles started this fire.”

And lastly, investigators say that “it is also possible that carelessness or even an intentional act by Hsieh could have started this fire.”

In the shed, the report says there was a propane tank venting product, several discarded cigarettes, a marijuana pipe, and several candles.

Shortly before 1:00 a.m. on November 18, two men including Hsieh’s brother Andrew, reported two fires in the shed – one involving a candle on a blanket and one in which Tony Hsieh lit a zip lock type bag.

They say “You’re going to smoke yourself out” and “that’s poison.”

Hsieh answers “It’s poisonous but I used it to light a fire.”

“It was just a small zip lock bag and it had a few post it notes inside it,” said New London Fire Marshal Vernon Skau during a news conference on Zoom.

At 3:20 a.m. Hsieh, who was using a portable propane heater in the shed, no longer answered the door and witnesses could not break through so they called 911.

Firefighters believe that some or all of these elements may have lead to this fire.

Police have also released a report on the investigation. Police released body camera video showing first responders coming to the shed in the back of the house where the fire was and it also shows them pulling the victim from the shed unconscious.

“The New London police department’s investigation has concluded no criminal violations and/or aspects in association with this incident,” said Capt. Brian Wright, New London Police Department.

A December Wall Street Journal report said that before he went inside the shed, Hsieh had asked people to check on him every five minutes and that he had used a heater to reduce the oxygen level in the shed.

WSJ also reported he was experimenting with drugs, drinking, had a fascination with fire, and was depriving his body of food and oxygen.

The report says Hsieh may have been impaired. A marijuana pipe, a Fernet Branca liqueur, and Whip Its were found in the shed.

“We saw the evidence of that,” said Skau. “Whether he was using Whip Its that evening or not we can’t say that.”

Toxicology reports are still pending. 

Credit: New London PD

Since fire investigators were not able to eliminate all potential ignition sources through their investigation, the fire is classified as undetermined at this time. If new information is learned, then officials say that the case will be reopened.

You can read the full report below:

The fire department’s report included a timeline showing that Hsieh and Rachel Brown, who owns the home, had a fight the day before and he moved into the shed before a planned trip to Maui.

Below is a timeline of events that led up to the fatal fire:

Tony Hsieh was 46.

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