Family members watched for hours as firefighters battled flames that spread to two homes Thursday along Portage Street in Highland Park.

The fire started in the middle home about 10:30 a.m. That's where relatives say 50-year-old Willie Thomas lived. While the fire raged into the afternoon, they prayed Thomas wasn't home.

"He's not in there ... we are just waiting to see if he's going to turn that corner and come on home," said Patricia Houser, Mitchells friend.

Thomas' brother, Mitchell Thomas, repeatedly called his cellphone throughout the day. But it kept going to voicemail.

Read more: Flames rip into 3 houses in Highland Park

"I was with him until 1:30 yesterday evening, so as far as I know, I left him at the house," Mitchell said.

By 3:30 p.m. Thursday, firefighters told the family they found a body in the home. It appeared that the fire started with oxygen tanks.

"There is signs that there was an explosion that would coincide with someone that was using oxygen and smoking," said

Thomas lived at the home alone. His loved ones say you could always count on him.

"He would do anything for me. Anything he had to do, if I needed him for anything, yes he would, He'd stick by me. He always has," said Houser.

3 houses caught fire Thursday morning in Highland Park

Published On: Feb 21 2013 11:35:46 AM EST   Updated On: Feb 21 2013 05:03:52 PM EST
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