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West Side man dies in fire: ‘Everyone on the block loved him’

Matthew Nelson

Matthew Nelson

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Updated: January 4, 2013 6:16AM

A 76-year-old man who could walk short distances but mostly used a wheelchair died in a fire Sunday morning in his East Garfield Park home.

Firefighters found Matthew Nelson in the upstairs bedroom after a fire broke out in the kitchen of his home in the 4000 block of West Van Buren, his son said.

Nelson was taken in critical condition to Mount Sinai Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Fire department personnel said there appeared to be no working smoke detectors in the building. Inspectors were looking for a cause of the 11:30 a.m. fire.

Matthew Nelson’s wife and three children had left the home to go to a laundromat shortly before the fire broke out, said his son, Larry Nelson. Two of the family’s four dogs died in the fire. Their two cats survived.

Nelson, 51, said his father was a blues aficionado with a big heart. His death comes five weeks after Larry Nelson lost his 29-year-old namesake son, who was fatally struck by a car in suburban Harvey.

“I’m trying to stay strong, that’s all you can do,” he said Sunday afternoon as workmen boarded up the windows of his father’s home.

Matthew Nelson was a retired crane operator who worked at a south suburban auto junkyard.

“He was an outgoing friendly person,” said his son. “He’d give money and food to anyone who needed help. Everyone on the block loved him.”

Nelson, who had eight children with his first wife, loved the blues.

“Muddy Waters, B.B. King . . . you name em, he loved them all,” Larry Nelson said.

Blues riffs would often fill the air on his block as Mr. Nelson relaxed on his front porch.

His favorite song was “A Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress,” by the Hollies, said Mr. Nelson’s nephew Roy Lewis.

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