Gas believed to be cause of deadly Tangipahoa fire

Photo provided by state Fire Marshal's Office -- A Ponchatoula home was destroyed by explosion and fire
Photo provided by state Fire Marshal's Office -- A Ponchatoula home was destroyed by explosion and fire

Ignitable liquids spread throughout a Ponchatoula home Friday caused a deadly explosion, killing a man after he argued with his adoptive father, state Fire Marshal investigators said Monday.

Authorities are awaiting dental record comparisons to forensically identify Elphage Joseph “Kirk” Scioneaux, 48, 41097 Renee Drive. He was adopted in 2002 by Elphage Joseph “EJ” Scioneaux Jr., 68, after they became romantically involved, Deputy Chief Brant Thompson said.

There were no fire patterns to study, but the damage to the house — such as large doors in the back of the house thrown 20 to 25 feet away from it — suggested an interior explosion.

The victim was standing in the hallway near the rear doors when the blast occurred, officials said, and he was thrown backward into the bedroom, where his body was found.

Authorities do not know who set the fire or if the victim intended to kill himself. An autopsy by the Tangipahoa Parish Coroner’s Office found evidence that the victim was alive and still breathing at some point during the explosion.

The elder Scioneaux said that he and the victim had a heated exchange, one of many, over the renovation of their single-story, 2,500-square-foot home about 45 minutes before a neighbor’s 911 call about the explosion. He also told investigators that he tried to defuse the situation by leaving to go shopping.

Friday’s argument centered on the victim’s desire to move out of the home while the elder Scioneaux said he wanted to finish the renovation, then decide what to do with the home. The elder Scioneaux said none of their previous arguments involved physical violence or threats of violence.

The victim, a native of Taiwan, moved to the United States nearly 20 years ago on a student visa and met the elder Scioneaux at a nightclub and the victim moved in with the elder Scioneaux, who owned the house. They later became lovers.

In May 1998, the victim earned a master’s degree in business from Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond. In January 2002, the elder Scioneaux legally adopted the victim and the victim later became his adoptive father’s caretaker.

Firefighters arrived at 41097 Renee Drive at 5 p.m. Friday and found the house completely engulfed in flames. Investigators, using a police dog, determined that gasoline was used in the fire, but there may have been other liquids present and samples were to the State Police Crime Lab in Baton Rouge.

“Investigators were able to readily conclude that a very rapidly developing, intense fire had occurred within the residence, bringing about a consistent level of damage throughout the structure,” Thompson said. “As the airborne fumes were ignited, a violent explosion occurred, heaving large objects some distances from the point of the explosion.”