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NEW ORLEANS - A 44-year-old died in a one alarm fire that may be connected to smoking in his Uptown apartment on Thursday morning, according to fire officials.

The 3 a.m. blaze in a residence between Jacques-Imo's restaurant and Ace Hardware in the 8300 block of Oak Street is believed to be accidental, officials said.

The victim was a 12-year employee at Ace Hardware and lived in apartments next door to his workplace, above Ace's warehouse.

The front apartment was unoccupied, the victim lived in the middle apartment and the resident who lived in the back apartment was able to escape.

Officials think the victim died of smoke inhalation due to a fire that started in the couch.

The owner of ACE Harware, Bruce Foret, said he had talked to the victim Wednesday night about what they planned to do in the store on Thursday.

'He was the most reliable guy in the world. He never missed work. He's been with me for 12 years...He was in the Marine band. He was an accomplished trombone player. He played in all the local things, festivals, marches and parades,' said Foret. 'He was just a local character. He worked at the hardware. He was just a normal guy, just trying to make it.'

The victim's family has yet to be reached.

The sign on the hardware store reads that it is closed because of a death in their family.

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