Neighbors loved, but also worried about man killed in San Jose fire

A deadly fire claims the life of a South Bay man, affectionately known as "Military Al."

Investigators are still looking into what caused that fire Sunday night, which reignited Monday morning.

And while neighbors in San Jose are mourning the loss of Albert Schell, they say they were always afraid something like this would happen.

"I came out and saw flames shooting up into the sky," says Scott Sahlman, a neighbor.

Those flames, engulfed the house at 871 Menker Sunday evening, claiming the life of the homeowner.

Friends and neighbors identified him as Schell, affectionately known as Military Al.

He was a Navy veteran, a former pipefitter, and a collector of military memorabilia among other things.

"He lived he for many years. He's very friendly. He's like the guardian of the street," says neighbor Frank Mitchell.

 In recent years, however, his collection spilled out of the house, into the yard, even filling cars parked out front, and neighbors began to complain to the city of San Jose.

"I said this is a recipe for a big fire. Do something! And now he's dead," says Susan Price Jang, a neighbor.

"You can see what it is outside here, you can imagine what it was inside the house," says another neighbor Mark Lucas.

The clutter ultimately caused problems for firefighters responding to the scene.

"In this situation, access was certainly an issue. It delayed crews in conducting that primary search. It also impedes visibility and travel through the interior of the building," says Battalion Chief Patrick Chung, with the San Jose Fire Department.

 Once firefighters could get access, they found the victim deceased inside.

 Monday, the neighborhood is grieving. Even those who complained about his clutter had nothing but nice things to say about the man.

In fact, Military Al spent his final hours dropping off a toy to one neighbor, and a beer to another.

"He said literally I could hear the crack of your parched lips from my house, so he brought over a beer. He was that kind of humorous, friendly kind of person," says Mitchell.

 Authorities believe the fire started near the back of the home, but the cause remains under investigation.