COAL TOWNSHIP — What exactly caused the fire that destroyed a family’s home Thursday on West Independence Street hasn’t been determined.
What is known to Jim Hoffman is that were it not for his dogs, the losses caused by the blaze may have been much worse.
Hoffman was asleep on a couch inside 1308 W. Independence St. when fire ignited in the southeast corner of the basement and spread to the first floor. His Jack Russell terriers were asleep with him. Something roused Ziggy and Princess. The dogs began to bark and Hoffman awoke to a living room filling with smoke.
He went to the kitchen at the rear of the house to see where the smoke was coming from and turned and left with one of the dogs. He went back inside for the second and left again.
“They’re the ones who woke me up. If it wasn’t for them, it’d be totally different,” Hoffman said at the scene Friday morning.
Craig Bowers, of 1311 W. Independence St., said he was inside his own kitchen with the front door open when he heard noises coming from out front.
“When I went out I saw the black smoke rising,” he said.
Bowers and Hoffman met each other outside when Hoffman asked Bowers to call 911.
Hoffman, a longtime Coal Township firefighter, soon after radioed 911 from his truck to make the call for a “second alarm,” he said.
Hoffman’s wife, Cheryl, and their daughter, Kayla Jilinski, were together at Tiger Stadium at Southern Columbia Area for a junior high football game when the fire occurred. Cheryl had her emergency pager with her. When the emergency call was broadcast it first put the location of the fire in the 1200 block. That left Kayla and Cheryl to wonder.
“We were actually trying to figure out what house it was,” Cheryl said.
“My friend had called. ... ‘It’s your (parents’) house. Get home now,’” Kayla said.
Total loss
Trooper Kirk Renn, state police fire marshal, investigated the scene Friday. He said the home was a “complete loss.”
A generator was operating in the area where the fire originated. It was being used to power a refrigerator and a television. There was no electric service to the house, he said.
“I can’t say with absolute definitiveness that it is what caused it,” Renn said of the generator, saying the cause has officially been ruled “undetermined.”
Renn doesn’t believe the cause to be suspicious but noted that Coal Township Police will continue investigating.

More on this story in Saturday's online and print editions of The News-Item.