Former Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh locked himself in a shed with nitrous oxide cartridges, liquor bottles, drug paraphernalia, and a propane heater and candles, among other flammables, in the moments leading up to the November fire that killed him, a fire department report said on Tuesday. The report offers the most information to date on the Connecticut blaze that ultimately led to Hsieh’s death a little more than a week later from smoke inhalation.
New London Fire Department officials said they couldn’t determine whether “carelessness or even an intentional act” by Hsieh started the fire, but that the presence of drugs and alcohol may have impaired his reaction to the fire. New London Fire Marshal Vernon Skau shared several other potential causes for the fire, including the misuse of candles.
An investigation from the New London Police Department found no signs of criminality tied to the fire. Hsieh’s death was ruled accidental by the Connecticut state medical examiner’s office.
As TheWrap reported in early December, Hsieh’s affinity for nitrous oxide, alcohol and candles concerned those closest to him in his final days — and led some to believe his hard-partying ways contributed to his inability to escape the fire that ultimately killed him.
Fire officials said Hsieh was staying at the home of a former Zappos executive when he died. At about 3:00 a.m. on Nov. 17, a friend when to check on Hsieh inside the 300 square-foot shed and noticed a candle was burning a candle near Hsieh. The friend alerted Hsieh and told him to put out the candles, which he agreed to do. Security camera footage shows the friend told Hsieh “you’re going to smoke yourself out” and “that’s poison.” Hsieh responded, saying “It’s poisonous but I used it to light a fire.”
A few minutes later, Hsieh opened the shed’s door and showed “occasional light smoke” was “wisping from the door.” The fire department report added it appeared “as though there was an incipient fire within the shed at that time.”
Hsieh’s brother Andrew then knocked on the door at 3:20 a.m. and said it was time to leave for a vacation they had planned. Hsieh, according to the video footage, told him to return in a five minutes. Smoke continued to fill the shed and a carbon monoxide alarm went off. The report says a sound on the security footage indicates the relief valve on the propane tank was “actuated to relieve pressure from within the tank.”
The smoke then started to emanate from the shed at an increased rate before the security feed went dead at 3:24 a.m. A friend told fire officials they checked on Hsieh a few minutes later and tried to break the door down to get in before calling the fire department. Hsieh was found face down on a blanket a few minutes later when firefighters arrived and rushed to a nearby hospital. He was later airlifted to the Connecticut Burn Center, where he died on Nov. 27.
The son of Taiwanese immigrants, Hsieh graduated from Harvard University before embarking on a successful career as an entrepreneur, venture capitalist and civic leader.
Prior to joining Zappos, Hsieh co-founded the online advertising network LinkExchange, which he sold to Microsoft in 1998 for $265 million.
While at Zappos, he also became a leading figure in public and private efforts to redevelop downtown Las Vegas. In 2013, he moved Zappos’ headquarters to the former Las Vegas City Hall building and pledged $350 million to other revitalization efforts.
“Tony Hsieh played a pivotal role in helping transform Downtown Las Vegas,” Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak tweeted. “Kathy and I send our love and condolences to Tony’s family and friends during this difficult time.”